GLEN ROSE -- Rattlesnakes and Texas go together like a shaken-up soda and a sticky mess, no one wants to deal with them but they still happen. However, there are preventative vaccines that can be administered to protect those beloved pets from potentially lethal snake bites, according to Dr. Michael Jones of the Glen Rose Veterinary Clinic.
"There's a rattlesnake vaccine available for use in dogs and it's given according to the manufacturer — one dose [administered] four weeks apart. We usually say three weeks apart, and then annually thereafter," Jones said.
"It's designed to reduce the morbidity and mortality of how severe the rattle snake bite is," Jones elaborated on what exactly the vaccine is designed to do. “The idea is to keep the dog from dying from it, and we've seen dramatic results from the vaccine. I've had two dogs this last year, both bit at the same time and in the same household. One had had the vaccine and one hadn't.
“The one with the vaccine shook it off like a bee sting, the other one died within about an hour."
Cats on the other hand, react to snake bites differently than dogs, according to Jones, and while the vaccine available is tailored to help dogs, some of his colleagues have found success using it on cats.
"Most cats when they get bitten by a rattlesnake don't show up to the house again for three days, and they either survive or they don't. But when they survive a rattlesnake [bite] there's usually a lot of tissue damage. While the vaccine's not labeled for cats, I have several veterinary friends that have started vaccinating for cats as well.”
Rattlesnake bites are fairly common in the Somervell County area, Jones said. His clinic typically sees about 30 cases a year, and it has already seen 20 cases in 2015 — some of which happened well inside the city limits.
"My most recent case happened up on Texas Drive behind the amphitheater,” Jones said, “and it was a cat that got bit in the throat. I don't believe the cat would have survived with or without the vaccine with that type of injury. I've had a rattle snake bite a dog up near the post office — between the post office and the Methodist church on that rocky hill. You can say we live in the city, but we're actually still in the country."
The cost to treat a rattlesnake bite can be very expensive compared to the cost of the 24-dollar-a-dose vaccine.
"The treatment for rattlesnake bites can be as minimal as $100 to $200 to $500 to well over $1,000 if we're using the snake antivenin and bloke transfusions plus hospitalization," he said. "Antivenin by itself is a $500 injection."
Jones reiterated that while snakes may not be as prevalent in the winter, they still pose a threat to pets and people during those colder months.
"My son lost a dog in January of one year," he said. "While rattle snakes generally are not out in the winter time, on a hot winter day which may be 70 degrees, they'll come out and sun. And in Texas we can have some pretty warm days, even in December or January."
The vaccine available protects against more than just rattle snakes, it covers copperhead and water moccasin bites also.
"The vaccine works against rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins. I haven't seen a water moccasin bite since I've been in Somervell County,” Jones admitted. “I have people tell me they saw water moccasins, and they're supposed to be really aggressive, but I've never seen a dog come in with a water moccasin bite. I see a lot of copperhead bites and they're not near as severe as rattle snakes. Although we still end up giving them IV fluids and pain medicine for it.”
Jones elaborated on the potential dangers of copperheads, and how your pet is a potentially life saving part of the family.
"Copperheads usually run in pairs,” he said. “They like to hang out on the back porch of your house and in the shrubbery around your gardens up adjacent to your house. While this cat lost his life to a rattlesnake, our pets do a good job of identifying and sometimes taking the hit for us if a snake comes into our yard. It's always a good idea to keep cats around for that reason and dogs with you on walks.”
If you prefer to choose a different route than vaccinating your dog against rattle snakes, "snake proofing" may be another option, according to Jones.
"Dogs can be 'snake proofed' usually by exposing the dog to a rattlesnake with its mouth taped shut and then hitting the dog with a shock collar when he approaches the snake” he explained. “Texas Dog Academy in Granbury usually has snake slinks in the spring. For about $25 you can have your dog 'snake proofed' and it does work. My problem with 'snake proofing' a dog is I want his to alert and bark at the snake, some of these dogs once they're 'snake proofed' they'll just avoid the snake.”
In conclusion, snake bites are a serious matter for pets and people alike. It is important to keep informed about the potentially deadly animal, and to take precautions against possible interaction and bites. If a poisonous snake is ever found, call the proper authorities, either animal control or 911.