Rattlesnake vaccines and Rattlesnake avoidance classes, are they worth the cost?

It is estimated that the survival rate for a dog bitten by a rattlesnake that has received adequate treatment is around 80%.  The recovery time usually takes between 24 to 48 hours, depending on how much venom the dog received and how soon they received treatment.

Mojave Green Rattlesnake is one local native species of rattlesnakes. (Photo: Courtesy of YoshiYama Photography).

Veterinarians reported that dogs have less pain, less lethargy less swelling, and that the swelling can be reversed if anti-venom treatment is received within 1 to 2 hours of the initial bite.   Without treatment, your dog will suffer miserably and smaller dogs will succumb to the effects of the toxins in the venom.

Treatment by your veterinarian consists of intravenous fluids, pain medications, and anti-venom.  Many people believe that Benadryl is an effective treatment, but it is not effective against snake envenomation, because it does not treat the effects of the venom.  It only treats any allergic reaction that your pet may have to the venom.

If your pet is bitten do not administer any other types of care.  For example, do not try to suck out the venom, as you run the risk of getting the venom into your system.  Do not apply a tourniquet.  These strategies really don’t work and any delay makes the odds worse for your pet.

While in route to your vet try to keep the wound below the heart and keep your pet as still as possible to discourage the spread of venom. Administer CPR if your Pet quits breathing.  Keep calm as this will assist in keeping your pet calm.

So, you wonder if getting your dog vaccinated against a rattlesnake bite is a good idea and does it work.  The vaccine generates protective antibodies against the rattlesnake venom, which neutralizes the venom itself. The claim is that vaccinated dogs experience less pain and have a reduced risk of permanent injury from the bites.

This reporter reached out to Dr. James Steyee at the Virgin Valley Veterinary Hospital to find out his thoughts on the vaccine.  He stated, “I have not seen a rattlesnake bite in my practice since approximately 2012.”

Of the dogs that he has seen, only one had been previously vaccinated.  He stated that “Of the bites we have seen, there is no true distinction if the dog with the vaccination had a less severe reaction compared to those without.

One dog did have to get antivenin and unfortunately, we do not have the full history on that patient if she had a vaccination or not.”

If you choose to vaccinate your pet Dr. Steyee recommends that the initial vaccination should be given and then booster shot  3-4 weeks later and then once yearly thereafter. He stated that “Ideally the vaccine would be given sometime around March when the weather around here starts to warm up and more snake activity starts to occur.”

When asked if certain breeds are bitten more often than others he stated that “there is really no specific breeds at risk, but that people that are out in the desert more with their dogs are at a greater risk.” He believes that with all the construction in our area, disruption of the habitat can mean we may see more of them in town.

When asked about the costs of treatment he responded that “Antivenin alone is approximately $600-800 for a single dose. With a hospitalization and other treatment one could be looking around $1200-$2000”. The vaccination currently costs $25 for a single shot at this time. Dr. Steyee stated that “The rattlesnake vaccine was designed to reduce clinical signs and to allow time to get help.”  But the thing to keep in mind is that regardless of vaccination status, your pet still requires immediate veterinary care.

Rattlesnake getting ready to strike. Photo courtesy of the WOOF! Wellness Center in Santa Clara, Utah

Another good option is to enroll your pet in a rattlesnake avoidance class.  This class utilizes an electric shock collar to teach your dog that a snake (bite) hurts. Dogs attending the class approach a live rattlesnake, but are shocked before they encounter the snake, in an effort to teach them to stay away from snakes that they may encounter.  Owners look on as the handler works with the dogs, and many are upset by their dogs’ pain.  There are a few seconds of pain, but it’s cheap insurance considering that you would pay upwards of $1700 or more to get anti-venom treatment for your pet.  Your dog then becomes your safety device.  If he hears, sees, or smells a snake he’ll take a different route so that both of you can avoid an encounter.

Snake activity starts up as early as March and extends through early fall, but they will often continue to be active in the late fall and winter months if the conditions are right for them to hunt. Snakes cannot thrive when temperatures fall below 65 degrees, so they tend to start heading for their warm dens to hibernate once the temperatures begin to fall.

Snakes are their most active during warmer months when it’s cool out, early morning and early dusk are peak times.

When asked about the training provided at the WOOF! Wellness Center, Anita DeLelles responded that “the classes are held usually twice in the spring, late March to late April and maybe once in the fall, it depends on demand.”  When asked if the dogs ever need a refresher course she stated “It is not necessary but we offer free retests anytime the trainer is here doing classes.”

Anita stated that “the classes are group classes as the trainer comes up from Tucson for us. We can coordinate other locations if there is enough demand however, finding locations appropriate for doing the training can be a challenge.  At WOOF! We are in a controlled and safe environment on private property.  If the trainer goes to another location we would require at least 10 dogs’ minimum”.  The cost at WOOF! Is currently $160 per dog and additional dogs from the same family are $125 per dog.  Please refer to their website for scheduling of classes.

So, is vaccination or training the right option for your dog?  Only you can decide.

*Special thanks to Dr. Steyee at the Virgin Valley Veterinary Hospital, Mesquite, Nevada and to Anita DeLelles of the WOOF! Wellness Center and Training Academy in Santa Clara, Utah.*

For more information for the Virgin Valley Veterinary Hospital you can visit their website at http://www.virginvalleyvets.com/Home.aspx or calling (702) 346-4401. For more information for the WOOF! Wellness Center and Training Academy, visit their website at https://www.woofcenter.com or call (435) 275-4536.

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