Rattlesnake interactions with people and pets are inevitable in our region this time of year. Understanding more about these intimidating creatures may help prepare owners to best protect their four-legged loved ones. Rattlesnakes are members of the Crotalidae family of venomous snakes, also referred to as “pit vipers”. Other venomous snakes in this group include copperheads and water moccasins.
– 25% of bites are considered ‘dry’, meaning no actual venom was administered by the snake
– Young snakes are more likely to administer their full venom load in a strike vs. an older snake
– Severity of the bite is influenced by the volume of venom injected, the size of the victim, the time to presentation for medical care, amount of physical activity since the bite, and the bite location. LOTS of factors!
-Immediate and sometimes severe swelling, bruising, and pain are the most common outward signs of a bite in our region.
What happens to an animal when it is bitten?
Rattlesnake venom contain enzymes and toxins meant to immobilize, digest, and kill their prey. Due to these toxins, there are three things we are concerned in an immediate setting for patients bitten by rattlesnakes:
- Low blood pressure (hypotension)
- Blood clotting issues (coagulopathy)
The only true, effective treatment for rattlesnake envenomations is rattlesnake antivenom. Antivenom is made of antibodies to help neutralize circulating venom and best results occur when it is given to a patient within 2-4 hours of the bite. It can take several doses of antivenom to get patients stabilized, depending on the amount of venom in their body. While hospitalized, patients also receive pain medications, IV fluids, and wound management if needed in the emergency setting. If you or your pet does get bitten by a rattlesnake, LEAVE THE BITE AREA ALONE, try and remain as calm as possible to minimize the spread of venom, and seek emergency medical care.
Rattlesnake bite prevention
1. Rattlesnake vaccines
Rattlesnake vaccines (Crotalus atrox) are not considered a ‘core’ vaccine like rabies, but they can provide some protection for pets who may have higher exposure rates to snakes. While these vaccines alone are sometimes not enough to save a pet who has been bitten, we do feel these vaccines give our patients a little more time to get to the necessary emergency care they need. Many of our at-risk canine patients receive this vaccine yearly, though we can see some pets who will have a local reaction at the injection site. Not all pets need this vaccine, but it is worth speaking about with your veterinarian at their next checkup.
2. Snake avoidance training
Snake aversion training courses are becoming more and more available in Texas due to increasing interactions with rattlesnakes and our canine friends over the years. Most courses use an electrical or pressure collar along with a defanged or hooded, live rattlesnake in order to evoke a negative physical stimuli (shock) when introduced to the scent and sounds of the snakes. These types of courses are not recommended for timid dogs.
3. Prevent snake exposure
Making your home and property less appealing to rodents (snake’s prey source) and applying some snake-proofing can help to minimize rattlesnake exposure for your pets. Installing snake fencing or specialized screening on fences and using pavers under gates to seal entry areas are a few basic options. Removing fruit on the ground, tidying up or getting rid of birdfeeders, keeping lids on trash cans, and keeping pet food indoors are all ways to help keep rodents away. Removing vegetation away from fencing, sealing gaps under the house, and cleaning the yard will also reduce snake and rodent populations.
Though we can’t avoid all contact with rattlesnakes, understanding methods for protection, treatment, and prevention of bites can help to minimize the risk for your pets and family.
-Dr. Rianne Decker