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Rattle Snake Bites

Living in Arizona we encounter many different types of wildlife, unfortunately rattlesnakes may be one of them. Rattlesnakes are most active in warmer seasons, from Spring to Autumn. Dogs are at risk for rattlesnake bites; in fact, dogs are about 20 times more likely to be bitten by venomous snakes than people and are about 25 times more likely to die if bitten.  Snake bites are life threatening, extremely painful, expensive to treat, and can cause permanent damage even when the dogs survive. Like people, dogs may stumble over the location of a snake by accident. Curiosity or a protective instinct can place your pet at risk.

Most bites tend to occur on the face or extremities. The rattlesnake bite is generally “hemotoxic” which means that it exerts its toxin by disrupting blood vessels.  The swelling is often dramatic.  The toxin further disrupts normal blood clotting mechanisms leading to uncontrolled bleeding.  This can lead to shock and finally death.

The most common mechanism of death from a rattlesnake bite is circulatory collapse, therefore  intravenous fluid support, antibiotic therapy, cardiac and blood pressure monitoring, antihistamine administration and pain management are very important.  A minimum of twenty-four hours of post-bite observation and hospitalization is prudent. In addition, treatment of snakebite should include antivenin administration.  Antivenin is very helpful in the inactivation of snake venom.

In 2003 Red Rock Biologics developed a  rattlesnake vaccine to helped provide the best protection against poisonous snakes. The vaccine works by stimulating the dog’s immune system to produce antibodies against rattlesnake toxin.  Initially, a dog should receive two subcutaneous doses about 30 days apart.  It is best to give vaccination boosters about 30 days before beginning of exposure to rattlesnakes.  As the antibodies are short lived and the vaccine typically only provides protection for six months, a booster shot is necessary once a year one month before “snake season” The reported benefits of vaccination include a delay in onset of symptoms, fewer symptoms, less severe symptoms, a decrease in mortality rate, faster recovery times, and little or no tissue necrosis.  Dogs that have received the vaccination still need emergency veterinary treatment, but because of the vaccine, they should experience less pain and a reduced risk of permanent injury from the rattlesnake bite.

Snakebites are always an emergency.  Even if your dog is vaccinated against rattlesnake venom, always get your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible following any snakebite.

If your pet is bitten by a Rattlesnake:

snake-bite
  • Get everyone away from the snake.  It is difficult to identify a snake unless you are an expert.  It is not necessary to know what kind of rattlesnake caused the bite.
  • Get medical help immediately.  Animals with the highest mortality rate are small breed dogs and dogs that did not get medical attention right away.  Call your vet en route, so the staff is prepared for you.  (Cats survive bites surprising well with immediate medical attention.)
  • Keep the pet calm.  If possible, carry the animal.  The more activity, the more blood circulation, the faster the toxin will spread through the body.
  • DO NOT CUT INTO THE BITE.
  • DO NOT TRY TO SUCK OUT THE VENOM.
  • DO NOT APPLY ICE.  (Despite your reflex to treat the swelling, ice will aggravate the problem.)
  • DO NOT APPLY HEAT.
  • DO NOT APPLY A TOURNIQUIET.
  • DO NOT GIVE THE ANIMAL ANY MEDICATION.