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Pet Rattlesnake Safety Tips
& Rattlesnake Bite Treatment

Welcome to the pet care section of Diana L. Guerrero's Ark Animals. Prevention is the best protocol for pet safety. If you hike or travel in rattlesnake wilderness habitats you may be interested in the latest pet care tips regarding rattlesnake vaccines (Red Rock Biologics), antivenin, and rattlesnake proofing. Find the latest snake safety tips in this article. Feel free to visit the media room for press releases, recent media coverage, and related items.

Pet Rattlesnake Safety Tips
& Rattlesnake Bite Pet Treatment Options

Spring and summertime hazards present numerous threats to pets. Pet safety is essential and planning or prevention are the best ways to avoid serious dangers to companion animals.

Urban Dwellers: Snake Bite Prevention Tips
As urban dwellers move into neighborhoods on the fringes of the wilderness more wildlife encounters occur. In addition an increase in outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, riding, or camping pose potential hazards for both humans and animals. Snake encounters of the venomous kind can be deadly without preventative steps.

Preventing snake bites is the ideal situation but not always possible. If you live in an urban sprawl adjacent to a wilderness area or wildlife corridor, start with some common steps for living with wildlife.

For instance, make sure to keep yards tidy. Clear away undergrowth, debris, tools, toys and similar items. Make sure that shrubs, bushes and flower plants do not encroach on your pathways or walkways so you have clear vision of anything in your path.

Clip bushes so that they are at least 10 inches or more off the ground to remove hiding spots for rattlesnakes. Ultimately the idea is to remove any items that obstruct your view of places snakes could hide and where you may unexpectedly place your hands and feet. Most rattlers “ambush” unsuspecting victims in hiding places humans inadvertently establish.

Keep bird food and fallen fruit picked up or make sure to locate feeders on the perimeter of your property instead of close to your home or yard. Rodents are attracted by these foods and the presence of these vectors attracts rattlesnakes. For safety’s sake, always peruse your yard before allowing pets out to play.

If you are out walking or hiking, stay in the center of the trail. Most snakes enjoy warming up on pavement or roadways and often end up next to a path under bushes or rocks. Always take a cell phone with you so you can call for help. Be sure to alert friends to where you are going and when you will be back.

If you see a snake, avoid it by heading back down the trail. Snakes have a striking distance that is longer than most people anticipate. If you take a break for lunch or a drink make sure to scope out the area diligently before sitting or resting.

Most people don’t realize that most bites on the trail occur when people are taking a break or when they have been indulging in alcohol or related substances and decide to “show off.”

Animal owners and horseback riders need to use extreme caution. Keep your animals on leash and on the center of the trail. Some riders carry rattlesnake shot to dissuade snakes. If your the animal is bitten, call a veterinarian immediately. Snakebites can kill animals quickly especially if they are bitten on the head.

Many canines react to the rattlesnakes playfully but the snake rattle is not an invitation to play! Keep your eyes moving around you instead of just focusing on the pet or trail and keep your pet on a tight leash.

If you see a snake in your home or yard, call your local animal control officer, police station, or fire department and keep the track of the slithery intruder so it can be removed when they arrive!

Pet Rattlesnake Vaccine
Rattlesnake vaccinations are available for some pets. The canine vaccine remains controversial but is safer than antivenin treatment. Protective antibodies are created in your pet so that when bit, the vaccine starts neutralizing venom immediately.

According to Red Rock Biologics, manufacturers of a rattlesnake vaccine, the antibody levels in recently vaccinated dogs are comparable to treatment with three vials of antivenin. So, although canines still need emergency veterinary treatment, they should experience less pain and a reduced risk of permanent injury from the rattlesnake bite. The Red Rock Biologics vaccine has been available nationwide since December of 2004. 

If you decide to have your pet vaccinated, the first inoculation will require that the animal receive two doses of vaccine spaced one month apart. Subsequent boosters are recommended annually in the about a month before you take your dog into rattlesnake habitat.

Snakebites are always an emergency. Even if your dog is vaccinated against rattlesnake venom, always get the pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible following any snakebite. Even non-venomous snake bites can lead to serious infections and antibiotic treatment may be needed. A veterinarian can determine what additional treatment is needed.

Concerns have been raised by experts, including the University of California at Davis. One problem with the vaccine is that there are well over 15 differing species of rattlesnakes in America and the different venoms affect the body differently.  So, one vaccine will not protect against all the different venoms.

The second debate is that the antibodies may not be adequate in the event of severe envenomation and may not neutralize the venom effectively. Finally, the individual animals may not receive sufficient protection depending on its response to the vaccine and the time elapsed since the vaccine.  Canines can also react adversely to the vaccine. 

Pet Treatment: Antivenin not “Antivenom”
Another option for treating rattlesnake bites is antivenin. Most people mistakenly believe it is called “anti-venom.” That is incorrect. Antivenin is a biological product consisting of antibodies and reconstituted into an intravenous drip administered to the patient after a bite.

Antivenin is expensive (up to hundreds of dollars per vial) and a large animal may require several vials. Often an allergy scratch test is used to test for immunological sensitivity (to determine the risk of an anaphylactic reaction to the antivenin. Sensitivity to equine serum can make future snake bite treatment problematic and in response an antivenin of sheep origin called CroFab™ antivenin now exists.

Other Snake Bite Aids
Additionally, antihistamines may be helpful in warding off anaphylactic reaction to the antivenin and so is commonly used in the treatment of snake bites.
Snake bite treatment may also include the administration of various anti-inflammatories, blood transfusions, antibiotics and pain killing medications

Rattlesnake Avoidance Training
Rattlesnake avoidance training is fast becoming the prevention effort of choice. Here in southern California the leader in the industry is Patrick Callaghan. Active since the 1970's he is the owner of Gameland Kennels.

The training is conducted with the use of a remote shock collar using a low-level stimulus. Training takes place in a safe and humane controlled environment. Canine and snake safety is of the utmost importance. Rattlesnakes are muzzled.

Don’t Panic Over Rattlesnake Bites
Don't panic if your pet is bitten by a rattlesnake but don't think try and solve the problem yourself. Instead call 911 and get your pet to a veterinary emergency clinic. Smaller clinics may not have the vaccine so be sure to call and ask or contact a larger facility.

About the columnist: Since 1978 Diana L. Guerrero has worked professionally with both wild and domestic animals. Guerrero has been affiliated with, and certified by, a variety of animal programs in the USA and Europe. Based in California, she writes, consults, and speaks. Information on her animal career programs, training courses, and her books {What Animals Can Teach Us about Spirituality (SkyLight Paths, 2003), Blessing of the Animals (Sterling, 2007), Help! My Pet is Driving Me Crazy (Guerrero Ink, 2007), Animal Disaster Preparedness for Pet Owners & Pet Professionals (Guerrero Ink, 2007)} can be found in this web site and in the shop. Questions for Guerrero should be submitted via the blog comments or membership forum.


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