The sound of a rattlesnake can strike fear into the heart of man and beast. Texas is home to 10 rattlesnake species; Arizona is the only state with more.
However, humans are not the only creatures at risk for rattlesnake bits. Dogs can also fall victim to the venomous reptile.
Venom from a rattlesnake is designed to kill prey. Humans and dogs may experience immediate severe pain, swelling, sweating and chills, faintness or dizziness, elevation of pulse rate, vomiting and enlargement of the lymph nodes near the bite.
Dr. Gary Crabtree, DVM at Squaw Valley Veterinary said there is a vaccine available to help protect man’s best friend.
“We’ve has some pretty good success stories so far,” Crabtree said, “My office alone, we’ve had over a dozen bites that we’ve seen and treated.”
The vaccine does not make a dog immune to rattlesnake venom. Instead, it introduces the venom into the dog’s system so that the body recognizes it.
Dogs may react differently to snake bits depending on several factors. The size of the snake, time of year or even the snake’s mood makes a big difference.
“The snakes can control the amount of venom,” Crabtree said.
It is the body’s initial reaction to the venom and not the venom itself that causes the painful side effects. Even if a dog survives the effects of the bite, the venom can cause permanent injuries.
Crabtree said so far, his office has not lost any vaccinated dogs to snakebites. Vaccinated dogs that are bitten usually experience a less severe reaction to the venom. The most severe case involved a dog that suffered extensive tissue damage.
“It was a huge snake based on the fang marks,” Crabtree said. “The dog probably would have been dead without the vaccine.”
The vaccine is given in two doses, about three weeks apart. An annual booster is needed to keep the antibodies active.
Crabtree said each injection will cost about $15 and if the dog is bitten, treatment may cost between $100 and $200. However, antivenom treatment for an unvaccinated dog that is bitten may cost $1,000 or more.
He recently treated a four-year-old dog for a snake bit. The dog had not been vaccinated and died three hours after receiving the bite.
Somervell County provides the perfect terrain for rattlesnakes. Crabtree said rattlesnakes love the high, rocky hills in the county. He said outside dogs are at a higher risk for snakebites, but that any dog can be struck.
Once a dog is bitten, Crabtree said to try to identify the snake. If the snake poses a danger to others in the area, try to kill it. Then, call the veterinarian’s office. It is important to know where the dog was bit, the size and type the snake, the size and age of the dog.
Never give alcohol to a human or animal that has been bitten. Crabtree said alcohol amplifies the affects of the venom. He also said not to try to suck out the venom.
“The most important thing is to not panic,” Crabtree said. “Get to the vet’s promptly, but safely.”
Many pet owners are concerned about the risks associated with the vaccine.
“Thus far, the vaccine has been pretty safe,” Crabtree said. “We’ve had very few reactions to the vaccine. It’s really proved to be a win-win vaccine.”