Friday, July 24, 2015

Rattlers and the Wild West

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, Californias fire fighters even had to delay entering fields to fight fires due to heavy rattlesnake encounters.  
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California actually has several different types of rattlesnakes. You can find a good synopsis of snakes in California, what to do should your pet encounter one, what to do should your pet get bitten, and whether or not you should consider the rattlesnake vaccine for your dog at

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Basically there are several things to remember.  The severity of the bite depends on the species of the snake and the size of the pet among other things. Some have more toxic venom than others, and how long it is been since the snake has last bitten, how mature it is, and if it is able to control the amount of venom ejected, can vary.  Statistically approximately 20-25% of bites have no venom, and on average 5% are fatal.  The venom is a toxin that spreads through the blood stream and circulates quickly.  It inhibits clotting and damages the blood vessels leading to swelling and loss of circulation.  Treatment is most effective the earlier it is given, and immediate medical or veterinary treatment should be sought.  One should not try to suck out the venom or cut open the wound in any way.  

Treatment usually involves immediate IV fluid support to prevent circulatory collapse, and usually antibiotics and antihistamines.  Approximately 1/3 of the bodys 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.   
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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.  

Hopefully this will not be an issue for you and your dog(s), but with the increasing pressures of habitat, food resources and water in our state, we hope you will be aware of what they might encounter.  Happy trails!

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