Protect Your Dog From Rattlesnake Bites and Toxin

If you live near rattlesnakes or you travel with your dog into rattlesnake country, you may want to pay attention to this article. Thanks to...

Joy  |  Jun 19th 2007


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If you live near rattlesnakes or you travel with your dog into rattlesnake country, you may want to pay attention to this article.

Thanks to the Sierra Vista Herald for this potentially life-saving article.

Precautions can be taken to protect dogs from rattlesnakes
BY DANA COLE
HERALD/REVIEW

Published on Sunday, June 17, 2007

SIERRA VISTA While most dogs survive rattlesnake bites, its always traumatic to see the severe reactions tissue damage, pain, shock and sometimes death that can result from a dose of well-delivered venom.

Its important for dog owners to know about options that could protect their dogs from the serious and sometimes deadly medical emergencies associated with snakebites.

There is a rattlesnake vaccine for dogs that is fairly new to the veterinary scene. Its something many of the local veterinary hospitals have on hand for clients with concerns about snakebites.

The vaccine may not provide full protection against a bite. It does seem to reduce the severity of a snakebite reaction. The full efficacy of the vaccine is still being researched.

Vaccinated dogs that are bitten by a rattlesnake should be seen by a veterinarian,” advised Mike Falconer, office manager at Sierra Animal Hospital. Even though a dog is vaccinated, rattlesnake bites are considered a medical emergency.”

Depending on whether antivenin is used, treatment for a snakebite can run as high as $3,000 or more, Falconer said.

Treatment may include intravenous fluids, antivenin injections and antibiotics. Antivenin is expensive, costing hundreds of dollars per vial.

So, if you have the option, why would you not give the vaccine,” Falconer said. The vaccine is $30, and we give it twice a year. Its a small price when you consider the dogs reaction to the bite might be less severe.

It could mean a much lower dose of antivenin, and in some cases, the dog may not even need antivenin. There are so many variables involved when treating rattlesnake bites.”

In the event of a snakebite, the veterinarian will determine if the dog seems sufficiently protected by the vaccine, taking into account the type of snake involved if that information is available and how the dog is doing at the time of the examination. Treatment will depend on the severity of the dogs reaction to the bite.

Canine rattlesnake vaccine is comprised of venom components from the western diamondback, according to the University of California-Davis School of Veterinary Medicine Web site.

Although the vaccine may be useful for dogs that encounter rattlesnakes, UC Davis does not believe there is sufficient information regarding the efficacy of the vaccine to endorse it. While its been established that vaccinated dogs do develop neutralizing antibody titers to diamondback venom, UC Davis says that research is ongoing.

Another option for protecting dogs against rattlesnakes is to enroll in a snake avoidance class, a session that takes between 15 and 30 minutes, depending on the class.

Kathy Zmudzinski, owner of Scales Arizona, a dog boarding and training facility located off Highway 92 between Palominas and Bisbee, offers snake avoidance classes during the summer months. A German Shepherd breeder and dog trainer, Zmudzinski saw the need for avoidance training not long after moving into the area.

When we first moved out here with our dogs, we had two dogs bitten by a rattlesnake,” she said. So, as a trainer I knew there had to be a way to train dogs to stay away from snakes.”

She put her own dogs through snake aversion sessions and developed an effective program for teaching it to others.

While dogs that have been bitten by rattlesnakes dont seem to learn to stay away, Zmudzinski says the avoidance sessions have proven to be very effective.”

We have a caged snake and we put the dog in the same cage, with a fine mesh fence barrier between the dog and the snake so the dog cant get bitten,” Zmudzinski said, describing the technique. The dog can see, smell and hear the snake, and thats what we want.”

As the dog approaches the snake, the animal gets an electric shock. If the dog continues to approach the snake after the first shock, it gets shocked again.

Zmudzinski has found it usually takes one shock to get the point across, two at the most.

The dog thinks the snake caused the shock and doesnt want anything to do with snakes after that,” she said.

During the sessions, Zmudzinski uses a snake handler, an expert who knows how to work with the snake while keeping everyone dogs and owners safe.

This is the fifth season weve offered the class, and weve had really good success with the method that we use,” she said.

The snake avoidance sessions, which cost $45 for each class, have not started so far this summer, as Zmudzinski is looking for a suitable rattlesnake to use. Shes hoping to find a rattler between 3 and 4 feet long, an ideal size for the class. When summer is over, she releases the snake back into its natural habitat.

I really believe the snakes have every right to live here, and we all have to learn to get along,” Zmudzinski said.

The Humane Society of Southern Arizona also offers snake avoidance training at the Companions for Life Center,” located in Tucson. The program is offered through the summer and tuition for two three-hour sessions is $65 per dog, which includes a follow-up session, if its necessary.

There also is a snake repellent called Snake-A-Way, something Jeanne Patera, who recently had two dogs bitten by a rattlesnake, said she is purchasing. Hoping to protect her four dogs from future run-ins with rattlesnakes, Patera, who lives in the Tombstone area, ordered the product online and is waiting for it to be delivered.

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