Did you know that out of the 15 species of rattlesnakes native to the United States 11 can be found in Arizona, more than any other state in the country? Some people can spend their entire lives here and never see even one, others swear they practically trip over rattlesnakes everywhere they go. During the summer, snakes, like people and pets, avoid the blistering heat of midday and are more active in the early morning or early evening, so it’s wise to be vigilant at those times.
Rattlesnake bites usually involve dogs. Often, the bite occurs on the face, as the dog is inquisitive about, or aggressive towards, the snake. It is not uncommon for the dog to lose an eye. Snakebites can take a heavy toll not just on a pet’s health but also an owner’s wallet. Antivenin is very expensive and sometimes a bitten animal needs more than one vial.
A rattlesnake vaccine is now available, and like a tetanus shot, acts as a preventative, building up antibodies prior to an attack. After an exam to make sure the pet is healthy, the vaccine is administered by injection in two doses, one month apart. Booster shots are scheduled depending on the area’s “rattlesnake season.” Because antivenin is so costly and can have adverse effects, the vaccine is becoming a popular option for pet owners.
If a vaccinated pet is bitten, antivenin may still be recommended because there is no way of judging the amount or potency of the venom received, or how many antibodies have had a chance to build up. What the vaccine does best is give the pet a fighting chance that the snakebite won’t be fatal.
But the best treatment is prevention. Check your yard for snakes. If you and your dog are out walking, don’t let your pet run ahead of you where he might “sniff out” a snake hiding in a crevice or under a rock. If your pet does get bitten, seek out medical help as soon as possible. A snakebite is always a medical emergency. While some dogs are fearful of snakes and will back off, others just can’t stay away from that rattler. For those dogs who are “repeat offenders” there are “snake-proofing” classes that can be effective in training curious canines to keep their distance. Remember an ounce of prevention is worth an ounce of antivenin.