Rattlesnake Vaccine & Bites

Is there a list of local vets that do this for the Monterey to Santa Cruz area?
How effective is the vaccine?
If your dog is struck or bitten by a rattle snack after being vaccinated how much does the vaccine increase the time you have to reach medical attention?

While some hospitals do carry the vaccine, it is not a usually carried item for most vets. However, most emergency hospitals will carry or have access to the anti-venom.  You'd still have to contact your personal veterinarian to confirm whether they carry it and have it in stock. Check with our list of Associate Member hospitals.

In theory the degree and rate of swelling at the site of a bite will be slowed by the vaccine. However, regardless or whether your dog has had the vaccine, you should still seek immediate medical attention for dogs that are bit. Many people who backcountry hike will vaccinate their dogs so they buy time to get them to a facility for treatment. One cannot say how much time is increased with the vaccine as that is dependent on where the dog is bit and the amount of venom released.

Rattlesnake aversion courses are very effective—some say more reliable for avoiding the consequences of a bite than the vaccine is. These courses are available throughout California and more available in Southern California where hotter weather prevails.

*About Rattlesnakes:
There are several species of rattlesnakes found in California. Rattlesnakes generally hibernate in Northern California’s chilly winter weather, but in Southern California’s warmer winter conditions, rattlesnakes can be active year round. In this area, they tend to be active from March to September. Anytime you and your pet are in or near rattlesnake habitat, it is possible to encounter these venomous snakes. With a curious, protective, or even a fearful dog you may not be able to intercept a bite.

About the Rattlesnake Vaccine:
The Western Diamondback Rattlesnake is thought to cause most of the snake venom related fatalities in Northern California. The rattlesnake vaccine was created using the venom from this species. Venom does vary between rattlesnake species and even individual snakes, depending on environment. Although the vaccine is manufactured using the Western Diamondback venom, it does provide partial immunity to bites from other commonly found venomous snake species in California including: the Sidewinder, Timber, Massasauga, Copperhead, and Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. The purpose of the vaccine is to decrease the reaction severity and chance of mortality for a bitten dog. Upon vaccination, the body produces protective antibodies that will help neutralize rattlesnake venom for a bitten dog. The vaccine can decrease pain, swelling, tissue damage, and the risk of permanent injury or death. Basically, it can give you more time to get back to your car and drive to an emergency clinic and the anti-venom. Regardless of vaccination, a rattlesnake bite is considered a medical emergency.

When to Vaccinate:
The best time to vaccinate is in March or April of every year, right at the beginning of Rattlesnake season; it is still important to vaccinate, even after the season has started. The vaccine creates the highest levels of immunity in your dog between one and six months after the most recent vaccination. If your dog has never had this vaccine before, a booster 4 weeks later is necessary to create those protective antibodies discussed earlier. In areas with warmer weather conditions, where rattlesnakes are active year-round, a vaccination is recommended twice yearly.

Symptoms of a Rattlesnake Bite:

  • Inflammation – increasing with time, don’t wait to get in to the vet!
  • Redness and bruising at the site
  • Pain and sensitivity
  • Sloughing of skin with time
  • The gastrointestinal system can become affected, creating vomiting and diarrhea
  • The nervous system can also be affected, creating possible trembling, stumbling, and excessive drooling. Don’t wait for this to happen, take your dog to an ER veterinary hospital right away.
  • Ask your veterinarian if the Rattlesnake vaccine is a good choice based on your dog’s lifestyle.

Note: It is ideal to call the emergency clinic while on your way to make sure they have the anti-venom in stock.

*Partial Source: Thanks to Sacramento Animal Hospital for some of the information in this post.

—Merrianne Burtch, DVM, DACVIM, Internal Medicine Specialist