Rattlesnakes are indigenous to the Inland Empire and are known to strike pets during the spring and summer time. Rattlesnake venom can be deadly in even small amounts. The venom contains chemicals, which affect the ability to clot, can cause irregular heart rhythms, cause severe local swelling and death of tissue. If left untreated, many pets will be killed by even a small bite. The severity of the injury is based on the size of the pet (larger pets have a better chance than smaller ones), the size of the snake (larger snakes may have larger venom sacs) and the amount of venom injected in the wound (varies with the length of time the snake stays biting the pet, the age of the snake, when they last struck, etc.
Treatment for snake bite involves:
- Treating the pet for cardiovascular shock with intravenous fluids and other drugs
- Attempting to neutralize the toxins through the use of anti-venom serum. This serum has antibodies, which will hook onto the venom and allow the pet’s immune system to neutralize it.
- Broad spectrum antibiotics to prevent infection
- General supportive care
- Sometimes surgery is required to remove damaged tissue.
Protocol for Protection
Recently, a vaccine has been developed to help dogs combat the effects of rattle snake bites. This vaccine helps the pet’s immune system develop antibodies against the toxic venom. When a vaccinated pet is struck by a rattler, the antibodies help to neutralize the poison and thus reduce the severity of the injury. On average, antibody levels in recently vaccinated dogs are comparable to treatment with three vials of antivenom. This means vaccinated dogs should experience less pain and a reduced risk of permanent injury from rattlesnake bite.
The first year your dog is vaccinated, she should receive two doses of vaccine spaced one month apart. Subsequent booster doses are recommended annually in the Spring, or about a month before you take your dog into rattlesnake habitat.
Snakebite is always an emergency.
Even after your dog is vaccinated against rattlesnake venom, she should be taken to a veterinarian for evaluation and care as soon as possible following snakebite. Even bites by non-venomous snakes can lead to serious infections and antibiotic treatment may be needed. A veterinarian can determine if your dog is sufficiently protected for the specific type of snake involved and the amount of venom injected, or whether additional medical treatment would be helpful.
What types of snakes does this vaccine protect against?
This rattlesnake vaccine was developed to protect against Western Diamondback Rattlesnake venom. It is most effective against this snake’s venom.
Venom from many other snakes found throughout the United States is similar to the venom of the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. Because of these similarities, this vaccine also provides protection against the venoms of the Western Rattlesnake (including the Prairie, Great Basin, Northern and Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes), Sidewinder, Timber Rattlesnake, Massasauga and the Copperhead. This vaccine provides partial protection against the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake.
This vaccine does not provide protection against the Water Moccasin (Cottonmouth), Mojave Rattlesnake or Coral Snakes. Red Rock Biologics is developing a variety of vaccines to provide the best protection against poisonous snakes for dogs in each part of the country.
Should my dog be vaccinated?
If your dog lives, works or plays where rattlesnakes live, you should consider vaccination with a rattlesnake vaccine. Approximately 300,000 dogs and cats are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the United States. Rattlesnake venom can cause serious injury and even death.
How well does this vaccine work?
This vaccine works extremely well at getting dogs to generate protective antibody against rattlesnake venom. These protective antibodies start neutralizing venom immediately. This means that vaccinated dogs experience less pain and have a reduced risk of permanent injury from rattlesnake bite. Veterinarians typically report that such dogs experience less swelling, less tissue damage and a faster recovery from snakebite than unvaccinated dogs.
Factors which may influence antibody effectiveness against venomous snakebite include: the type of snake, location of bite and amount of venom injected; how well the dog has responded to the vaccine and the length of time since the last dose of vaccine was given to the dog.
How long does protection last? How often should my dog be vaccinated?
The maximum protection generated by vaccination typically becomes available about four to six weeks after the most recent vaccine booster dose. That protection then declines slowly over time. Vaccinated dogs typically receive good protection for about six months after boostering. Depending on the dog, some protection may continue out to a year, or longer.
The first time your dog is vaccinated, we recommend an initial vaccine injection followed by a booster dose about one month later. The recommended subsequent boostering schedule of one, two or three vaccine doses per year depends upon your dog’s anticipated exposure to rattlesnakes and the size of your dog.
Most dogs that are exposed to rattlesnakes for less than six months per year will only require a single booster dose for that year. The best time to give that dose is approximately one month before the start of the rattlesnake “season.” This category includes dogs who live in roughly the northern half of the United States, or dogs who briefly visit locations where rattlesnakes may be active — such as during a camping or hunting trip.
If your dog will be in an area where rattlesnakes are active for more than six months per year (roughly the southern half of the United States) we recommend two annual booster doses given four to six months apart. Again, the first booster dose should be given one month before the rattlesnake season begins. The second dose is given approximately half-way through the season.
If your dog is at particular risk of being bitten by a rattlesnake (for example, a search and rescue dog, some hunting dogs or dogs living in a high density rattlesnake area), you should consider using three booster doses per year at four month intervals.
Since resistance to venom depends upon the amount of venom neutralizing antibody available, small dogs (under 25 pounds) are at increased risk of envenomation injury. Because of this, a third dose in the initial sequence, and in subsequent years more frequent boosters (e.g. every four to six months), may be advisable in small dogs to maximize their antibody production for more protection.
Large dogs (over 100 pounds) do not develop as high an antibody level as intermediate-sized dogs in response to the two dose initial sequence. For this reason, large dogs may also benefit from a third dose in the initial sequence, although they do not necessarily require additional annual booster doses to maintain that antibody level.
How safe is this vaccine? Are there any side effects?
Safety data for this vaccine is similar to the available safety data of other pet vaccines currently in use. The vaccine is licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture and is recommended by thousands of veterinarians nationwide. The vaccine is safe for use in pregnant and lactating dogs, puppies as young as four months and healthy older dogs.
Side effects reported by veterinarians have been few and mild. Less than one percent of vaccinations result in a mild swelling at the injection site. The swelling does not bother the dog (there is no itching or pain) and the swelling resolves without treatment in about three weeks. Occasionally, a veterinarian may drain fluid from the swelling or prescribe antibiotics to speed up healing. Rarely (less than one-tenth of one percent of vaccinations), dogs have experienced mild cases of vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy for one to two days after vaccination. Cases of life-threatening anaphylaxis (an acute, “allergic” reaction to the vaccine) are extremely rare with this vaccine. These are estimated to occur at between one and three cases per million doses of vaccine administered.
A decision to vaccinate your dog should balance the risk and consequence of a venomous snakebite with the risk and consequence of vaccination. We recommend that you talk with your veterinarian about these risks.
What should I do if my vaccinated dog is bitten by a rattlesnake?
Snakebite is always an emergency. Even a vaccinated dog should be taken to a veterinarian for evaluation and care as soon as possible following snakebite. Veterinarians can determine if your dog’s immunity at the time of the bite is sufficient for the venom dose received or if additional treatment is required. Even bites by non-venomous snakes can lead to serious infections and antibiotic treatment may be needed. A veterinarian is the best person to consult regarding medical decisions for your dog.
Can dogs who have already been bitten by a rattlesnake be vaccinated?
Yes. We recommend waiting six weeks after your dog has been bitten by a rattlesnake before vaccination with this product. This wait will allow your dog to fully recover from the snakebite and will reduce the possibility of unfavorable interactions between the vaccine and any residual venom.
How old should a puppy be before being vaccinated? Can elderly dogs be vaccinated?
There have been no reports of any age-related adverse effects due to this vaccine in healthy dogs vaccinated as young as four months or in elderly dogs. Because we do not have any information on the vaccination of puppies that are younger than four months we do not recommend vaccination of puppies in this age group. Regardless of age, the vaccine should only be administered to healthy dogs.
Can I use this vaccine for my cat?
Our research suggests that the rattlesnake vaccine may actually work better in cats than in dogs. However, since the vaccine is not specifically licensed for use in cats, a veterinarian must determine if it can be administered to your cat. If you think your cat is likely to encounter rattlesnakes, discuss the potential risks and benefits of the vaccine with your veterinarian.
Can I use this vaccine for my horse?
This vaccine was not formulated for horses and we do not have any data supporting the use of this vaccine in horses. We are currently developing a modified version of the rattlesnake vaccine for horses.
Where can I get the vaccine?
The vaccine is only available through veterinarians. Your regular veterinarian knows your dog’s health history, and is the best person to call to obtain the vaccine for your dog.
How much does the vaccine cost?
Call our front desk at (909) 980-3575 to inquire about the cost of rattlesnake immunizations.