Last year, the drought and warmer spring temperatures drove many rattlesnakes out of wintertime dormancy early in search of water and food. The effect was that we had more human/rattlesnake encounters than typically noted. In some cases, California’s fire fighters even had to delay entering fields to fight fires due to heavy rattlesnake encounters.
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Treatment usually involves immediate IV fluid support to prevent circulatory collapse, and usually antibiotics and antihistamines. Approximately 1/3 of the body’s total blood volume can be lost to bleeding within a few hours. Antivenin is a product made from horse or sheep antibodies to several common rattlesnake venoms. It can cause an anaphylactic reaction if your pet has an immunologic reaction to horse or sheep serum and therefore a “scratch test” is usually done before administering. It helps to counteract the venom but needs to be administered intravenously within about 4 hours of a bite to be effective. It is also quite expensive (over $800/vial not including supportive care here in Sacramento) and depending on the size of your pet, he/she may need several vials. It is important to know that not all hospitals carry the antivenin as well.
There is a vaccine against the venom of several rattlesnakes that can provide protection similar to giving 2-3 vials of antivenin. It is typically given as a series of 2-3 injections initially, and bolstered annually. Even with vaccination, however, immediate care should still be sought. A snake bite is always an emergency.