Dogs can be taught how to avoid snakes by smell, sight and sound. This is extremely beneficial not only in alerting an owner to the presence of a dangerous snake on the trail – but also keeps the dog from getting into an expensive emergency situation. For rattlesnake avoidance training, visit Ma & Paw Kennels at www.snakesafedog.com or call them at 805-523-3432. They offer the most comprehensive and humane rattlesnake avoidance training for dogs. Group and private training classes are available throughout Southern California. Beth Worrell also offers Rattlesnake Prevention classes. You can reach her at (619) 997-6277 or [email protected]
Rattlesnake bites are the most common reason pets visit the emergency clinic during “snake season!”
There are eight kinds of rattlesnakes found in California, including the highly venomous Mojave Green. Rattlesnakes are the only venomous snakes found in our state. Rattlesnake “season” is generally March through September, but snakes have been known to be active all year round in Southern California. The easiest way to identify a rattlesnake is by the broad, triangular head familiar to most poisonous snakes. Do not depend on seeing or hearing the trademark “rattle!” This is merely a warning signal to potential predators. If a snake feels threatened enough, it will bite first and rattle later.
If you don’t quite believe it, check out this fine specimen photographed May 2004 on the property of our Kennel Director in Frazier Park. When Bud James from the Bakersfield Herp Society arrived to relocate the snake, they discovered it to be a nearly four foot long Southern Pacific!
Rattlesnakes kill their prey by injection of poison (or venom) through their fangs. The fangs are hollow teeth that are connected to a poison gland. When the snake strikes, fangs puncture the skin of the victim and the snake releases venom into the wound. Snakes lose their fangs and can grow new ones. They may have one to four fangs at a time. During the winter, rattlesnakes sleep in caves or other hiding places. Baby rattlesnakes are born in the spring and have a full supply of venom at birth. The adult snake can control the amount of venom it injects, and often it injects only part of the venom it has. The baby snake is more likely to inject all of its venom when it bites. Bites from baby rattlesnakes can be very dangerous. Sometimes a rattlesnake does not inject venom when it bites, but there is no guarantee or way to discern this non-medically.
Dogs encounter snakes during play or work in the snake’s natural habitat. Most bites to dogs occur on the face or extremities. The rattlesnake bite is generally “hemotoxic” which means that it exerts its toxin by disrupting the integrity of the blood vessels. The swelling is often dramatic with up to 1/3 of the total blood circulation being lost into the tissues in a matter of hours. The toxin further disrupts normal blood clotting mechanisms leading to uncontrolled bleeding. This kind of blood loss induces shock and finally death. Facial bites are often more lethal as the swelling may include the throat or impair ability to breathe. An exception would be the Mojave rattlesnake whose venom is “neurotoxic.” The bite of this snake causes rapid paralysis. This includes paralysis of the respiratory muscles and suffocation.
ANY snakebite is considered an emergency – no matter the size of the snake or your pet!
The faster the bite is recognized, the more effective the treatment is. Do not try to cut the bite wound open or suck out the poison! Seek veterinary care IMMEDIATELYfor proper treatment of the bite and any secondary problems.
Symptoms of a snakebite include puncture wounds, swelling, redness, pain, blisters, bleeding, panting or other difficulty breathing, crying, whimpering, convulsions, and many other changes in behaviors that should immediately cause concern.
Treatment often includes, but is not limited to, IV fluids, antivenin, antibiotics, pain medication, blood panels, blood transfusions, as well as hospitalization and observation. Emergency treatment can cost thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes. Antivenin is often the bulk of the cost. Sometimes, more than one vial is required to treat the animal, and vials can cost several hundred dollars EACH.
Recently, Red Rock Biologics has released a vaccination against the venom of the Western Diamondback (Crotalus atrox). This vaccine also protects against the venom of six out of seven of the other California rattlesnakes. Testing on the venom of the Mojave rattlesnake is still pending. Hiking, hunting, and working dogs as well as dogs that live in rattlesnake areas are good candidates for this product. The vaccine is administered in two doses 4 weeks apart (3 doses for very small or very large dogs), boostered six months later, and then bi-annually thereafter at the beginning and end of each rattlesnake season (usually April and September). This vaccine is only available in California.
While no vaccination is 100% prevention, the Rattlesnake Vaccine works on the same principle as the more conventional Rabies or Distemper vaccines. Preventative vaccination allows some extra time to get your pet to the hospital, plus may decrease the amount of antivenin needed to save their life.
Vaccinated pets also need emergency attention if they receive a snakebite.
MAVH offers this vaccination plus information on Rattlesnake Avoidance Training Classes for our canine companions. Please ask any available staff member for more valuable information.
If Your Pet Is Bitten By A Rattlesnake:
- Get the pet away from the snake! Do not pursue the snake in attempts to identify it’s specie. Risking a subsequent bite to yourself or pet that wants to protect you is not worth it. Knowing it is a rattlesnake is enough to begin treatment.
- Take the pet to the nearest emergency facility immediately. Call en route if possible to prepare the staff for your arrival and expedite treatment.
- Keep the pet as calm as possible. Do not let it walk around or get excited if it can be avoided. Blood circulation will increase and speed the spread of venom beyond the area of the bite. Try to carry your pet if you can.
- DO NOT cut into the bite area or try to suck out the venom. You could envenomate yourself in addition to further traumatizing the wound site.
- DO NOT apply a tourniquet, ice, or heat to the wound.
- DO NOT give the pet any medication without a veterinarian’s instructions.
If You Find A Rattlesnake On Or Near Your Property:
- Secure all pets and people safely away from the snake. Often it will move on if undisturbed.
- DO NOT try to wrangle the snake yourself.
- Call 9-1-1 for assistance (warning: they will kill the snake), or contact the Bakersfield Herpetological Society who may make a house-call to remove the snake. (661)-872-6468.
Rattlesnake Prevention If You Live In Rattlesnake Country:
- Routinely examine your yard before allowing children or pets to go out in it.
- If you see a snake, do not disturb it; get away from it quickly and take your pets and children with you.
- Do not handle live rattlesnakes.
- Do not keep a rattlesnake as a pet; it is against the law.
- Do not pick up a piece of firewood from a woodpile with your bare hands – use a long stick to break a piece loose from the pile
While hiking or camping:
- Wear heavy knee-high socks and high-top shoes or boots, and long pants tucked into the shoes.
- Do not allow your dogs (or children!) to roam and explore off-leash.
- Do not hike alone and keep to a clear path whenever possible.
- Do not walk around at night.
- Avoid tall grass or heavy underbrush. Look carefully before you sit down.
- Do no gather firewood after dark.
- Do not put your hands or feet in places you cannot see.
- Do not allow your pets to sniff and explore in places you cannot see or down interesting holes.
- Do not step over a log or large stone; walk around it.
- Look under fences before crawling under them.
- Make camp on open ground.
- Before making camp, check the area for snakes and likely places for snakes to hide (log or rock piles, crevices under ground cover, holes, empty burrows, etc).
- Do not sleep near wood or rubbish piles.
- Keep away from the head of a dead snake. Reflex muscle actions may cause a bite for up to an hour after the snake dies, even if its head is cut off!
- Please remember, snakes are deaf. They cannot hear if you yell to warn them of your approach. Use a walking stick to bang against the ground so vibrations will coax the snake out of an oncoming animal’s path.
For more information about Rattlesnake vaccination please visit Redrock Biologics: http://www.redrockbiologics.com/