The weather is finally starting to warm up around the Livermore and Tri-Valley areas. As the weather warms up we will likely start to hear about more rattlesnake encounters. You do not need to fear rattlesnakes, but you should try to keep your distance if possible. It is well established that the most common demographic for rattlesnake bites are young males, and especially those who have been drinking. As a reptile enthusiast, and self-proclaimed beer connoisseur, I understand the drive to play with the rattlesnake you encounter out on the hiking trail. I am here to be that little voice on your shoulder, and to tell you to take a picture from a safe difference, post that pic all over Facebook and Instagram, but keep yourself and your dogs at a safe distance. I am a huge proponent of appreciating nature, but let’s do it in a safe way for our pets, the native wildlife, and ourselves.
Since this is a veterinary blog, let’s talk about what you can do to keep your dogs safe this rattlesnake season (cats are occasionally bitten, but it is much less common). You may want to consider getting your dog the rattlesnake vaccination if you live in an area with a large rattlesnake population. This vaccination is designed to generate protective antibodies to rattlesnake venom, which should theoretically make reaction to envenomation less severe in the case your dog is bitten. The vaccine is given initially, boosted in one month, and then boosted annually. It is very important to note that you must still seek veterinary care ASAP if your dog is bitten, but it is designed to help buy you enough time to get to see your veterinarian. We do carry this vaccination at Ohana Animal Hospital, and we would be happy to talk with you about it more at your next visit!
The main goal is to prevent your dog from being bitten by one of our friendly (I know, how I could I possibly think that a rattlesnake is friendly??!! What can I say? I am a reptile guy!) local rattlesnakes (Crotalus oreganus/Northern Pacific Rattlesnake in the Livermore and Tri-Valley area). You can help prevent unwanted encounters by walking your dog on a 6-foot leash when you are in areas known to have rattlesnakes present. Most dogs bitten are not on a leash, and the owner was not able to remove them from the encounter fast enough to prevent the bite. Avoid hiking in areas with rocky or dense brush, or tall grass if possible, as this tends to be good rattlesnake habitat. It is best to stay on the worn trails when hiking, as it will be easier to spot a snake if it does happen to be in the area. At home it is best to keep your grass short, and remove any brush or rock piles, which are great areas for resting and sunbathing rattlesnakes.
It is important to have a plan in the case your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake. The first thing you want to do is calmly remove yourself and your dog from the snake’s area. Do not try to collect the snake, and definitely do not try to kill the snake. The snake did not want to bite your dog, but it was scared that it was going to be attacked, and the last resort for the snake was fighting back (I understand how angry you might feel as I had one of my dog’s bitten by a rattlesnake many years ago). The main focus needs to be getting your dog to the veterinarian, and specifically a veterinarian who carries antivenin. At Ohana Animal Hospital we are always stocked with antivenin in the case your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake. It is always good to call ahead to the office to make sure your vet has antivenin stocked, and they can start getting everything ready for your arrival. I have treated roughly 30 cases of rattlesnake envenomation, and with appropriate care and antivenin therapy, I have yet to see one not respond favorably.
Prevention is the always the best medicine, but being prepared for disaster can be life saving in an emergency. I have worked on rattlesnakes as a veterinarian, they are great for pest control in the environment, and they are some of my favorite animals. I personally love seeing a rattlesnake in the wild, but I also have a very healthy respect for them. I hope the above information will help keep your dog safe this rattlesnake season, but if you do happen to have an unhappy encounter, you know we are waiting and ready for you.
Zachary Steffes, DVM and the Ohana Animal Hospital Team