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Few things strike fear in the human heart like the possibility of a snake bite. And of all the snakes, the rattlesnake is probably the most terror inducing. Dogs, especially those who live in the southwestern part of the United States, can encounter rattlesnakes on walks or in their yards. Though dogs also have a natural fear of snakes, an overly curious dog can get bitten and a rattlesnake can strike without first being seen. The rattlesnake vaccine reduces the effects of a western diamondback rattlesnake bite and may also protect against the venom of other snakes.
Rattlesnake bites are painful and the injected venom can result in tissue swelling, impaired blood clotting, shock, and sometimes death. Treatment may include antivenin (a serum that neutralizes the venom), pain medications, IV fluids, and antibiotics to control secondary infections. But even if the pet recovers there may be long-term complications.
Luckily, vaccination is now available to help prevent the severity of the envenomation.
The rattlesnake vaccine, produced by Red Rock Biologics, is specifically designed to produce antibodies against the venom of the western diamondback rattlesnake. The vaccine may also be effective against other snakes with similar venom, such as the sidewinder, timber rattlesnake, and copperhead. The vaccine does not protect against the venom of water moccasins or coral snakes.
The vaccine works by creating protective antibodies that help neutralize venom, so dogs experience less pain and swelling after a snake bite.
Dogs that are bitten may also require less antivenin, which can be fairly costly and may produce side effects. Factors that can influence the effectiveness of the vaccine include the location of the bite, the type of snake, and the amount of venom injected.
While your veterinarian is always in the best position to advise you on individual vaccination decisions, some guidelines are on offer for dogs at risk of rattlesnake envenomation:
After the first vaccination the dog should receive a booster approximately one month later, followed by annual boosters in the spring before peak rattlesnake season. The vaccine’s protective effect is most evident four to six weeks after vaccination, and declines over time.
Dogs that are exposed to rattlesnakes for more than six months of the year may require boosters twice a year.
Any animal currently ill or suffering a chronic, immunosuppressive condition should not be vaccinated. Pets with a previous history of vaccine reactions should be treated with care, weighing individual need for vaccination and the likelihood of mitigating future reactions with the risks of revaccination.
No alternatives to this vaccine are currently offered for animals considered at high risk for rattlesnake envenomation.
When hiking with dogs in rattlesnake country, owners should stay on open paths and — for greater safety — keep their dogs on leashes. Digging under rocks or logs should be especially discouraged. Owners who live in a rattlesnake habitat should clear brush and firewood away from their homes and keep grass mowed in areas where their dogs frequent.
In the case of our domesticated felines, for which indoor living is thankfully an option, keeping them completely contained indoors is considered nearly 100 percent preventive.
This article has been reviewed by a Veterinarian.
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