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The Rattlesnake Vaccine Could Save Your Dog’s Life!
Protect your dog during this year’s snake season with the rattlesnake vaccine, which can help buy your dog time to get to the vet and decrease the severity of their reaction if they are bitten by a venomous snake.
By: Catie Kovelman, Updated 04/18/2022
Did you know that approximately 300,000 pets are bitten by venomous snakes every year? The majority of these bites occur from rattlesnakes in the Southwestern and Southeastern United States, but a snake bite can happen anywhere from Southern California to North Carolina. Snakes can live in a variety of diverse habitats and are found all over the country. And we have some bad news for you: It's officially rattlesnake season.
If your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, it is an emergency situation and the speed at which you get to a veterinarian for treatment could make the difference between life and death. In addition to getting your dog immediate emergency treatment, their chances for survival dramatically increase if they've also received the rattlesnake vaccine.
When compared to people, dogs are 20 times more likely than their owners to get bitten by a venomous snake and 25 times more likely to die if bitten. For additional context, dogs are 300 times more likely to be bitten by a venomous snake than to contract rabies. This is because dogs are more likely to explore areas in your backyard or during walks where snakes may be hiding, such as tall grass or heavy underbrush. If your dog has been bitten by a rattlesnake, your dog will likely yelp like he is in pain at the time of the snake bite. You'll also likely notice two bleeding puncture wounds from the snake's fangs, your dog will quickly show signs of pain, and develop life-threatening symptoms like weakness, seizures, collapse, muscle tremors, difficulty breathing, lethargy, and swelling.
Rattlesnake venom is essentially a mixture of hemotoxins and neurotoxins that target the body’s tissues and blood, causing hemorrhaging (internal bleeding) and necrosis (tissue death). The toxic venom also targets the nervous system, which can result in sometimes irreversible paralysis. A rattlesnake bite is extremely painful and life-threatening, particularly if your dog is on the smaller side. This is because smaller dogs have “less body” to absorb the venom. That said, 95% of dogs who do not receive immediate treatment within the first hour of the bite will die.
But of course, the best treatment for rattlesnake bites is to prevent your dog from getting bit in the first place. For example, pet owners make an effort to keep their dogs safe by enrolling them in rattlesnake safety classes to teach their dogs to stay away from snakes and put up snake fencing in their backyards. But no matter how careful you are, rattlesnake bites can still occur when you least expect them. If you live in rattlesnake country, the safest thing you can do is plan for the worst and hope it never happens. Sometimes dogs can simply stumble upon an angry camouflaged snake while on a walk, hiking, or sniffing around the backyard.
Since you can’t be 100% sure your dog will never be bitten by a rattlesnake, the best thing you can do is talk to your vet about inoculating your dog with the rattlesnake vaccine. The rattlesnake vaccine works by stimulating the dog’s immune system to produce antibodies against the snake venom. Then if the dog is ever bitten by a rattlesnake, the dog’s immune system will recognize the toxic venom and kick into high gear to fight it. Ultimately, this buys your dog more time to get to a vet to receive anti-venom and your dog’s reaction to the bite will likely be less severe. Dogs who have received the vaccine tend to have less swelling and pain when bitten by a rattlesnake.
An initial dose of the rattlesnake vaccine should be given, followed by booster shots every six months. Be aware that it takes about a month for the vaccine to be fully effective after the first dose. But when the vaccine is given on the proper timeline, it provides protection against multiple species of rattlesnakes, including Copperheads, Western Diamondbacks, the Western rattler (North & Southern Pacific rattlesnake, Prairie rattlesnake, Great Basin rattler), Pygmy rattlers, Massasaugas, Sidewinders, and the Timber rattlesnake.
In general, dogs who live in rattlesnake country where these slithering reptiles are found or who accompany their owners to high-risk locations when camping or hiking are good candidates for the rattlesnake vaccine. The last thing you want is for your dog to be in serious trouble if he runs into a snake while running in the tall grass or exploring the heavy underbrush at your campsite. If you are unsure if your dog should get the vaccine, it's always better to be safe than sorry and have a conversation with your vet regarding if the rattlesnake vaccine is right for your dog. While the rattlesnake vaccine is generally safe for most dogs, it may not be right for your pet if he is otherwise ill, has an immunosuppressive condition, or has had adverse reactions to other vaccines.
Keep in mind that the rattlesnake vaccine does not eliminate the need to seek immediate veterinary attention if your pet is bitten. The vaccine is simply another defense you can put in place to help save your pet’s life. If a venomous snake bite does occur, the vaccine should work in conjunction to save your pet with the anti-venom, intravenous fluids, and other medications administered by your veterinarian. While much of the research is still new or anecdotal, many people swear that the rattlesnake vaccine made a huge difference in saving their pet’s life. At the very least, it’s worth having a conversation with your vet. It might just save your dog’s life.
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