Spring and summer in the Southwest brings about many potential health and safety concerns for our pets. One in particular is rattlesnake bites. Rattlesnakes can induce serious, life-threatening injuries. There is much we can do to protect our pets from this potentially fatal catastrophe and to provide aid should the worst happen.
Rattlesnake bite prevention
Rattlesnakes are natural inhabitants throughout most of the southwestern United States and most of our cities and towns have been built over their native. They present a clear danger to both people and pets even in urban environments.
Several simple steps should be taken to minimize the risk of exposure within our own back yards:
- Keep all yards clean and tidy of tools, toys, yard waste and other debris.
- Keep all plants and shrubs trimmed several inches off of the ground and do not allow them to overgrow onto paths so that any snakes hiding under these plants can be easily seen.
- Keep the areas around bird feeders free of seed and other debris to avoid attracting rodents that in turn attract snakes.
- If you should find a snake in your yard do not attempt to capture or kill it yourself, call in the proper authorities to safely remove the animal.
Care should be taken to avoid snakes while out on the trails:
- When hiking in rattlesnake country keep dogs on leash and under control at all times.
- Be aware of your surroundings, often you will be practically on top of a snake by the time it feels threatened and rattles.
- Do not go off trail where the ground is not clearly visible, especially in dense shrubs or high grasses where snakes frequently hide.
- Always carry a flashlight if you are likely to be out at dusk or after dark. A large number of bites occur in the evening hours when snakes are not as visible.
- Should you encounter a snake do your best to keep your dog under control and slowly back away.
- Always carry a cell phone and contact numbers for your veterinarian and the local emergency veterinary hospital so you can get advice should the worst happen.
What If My Pet is Bitten?
- Remain calm!
- If possible, note the snake’s size, color and whether or not you note a rattle. Bites from small juvenile snakes are usually more severe than bites by adult snakes.
- Note where the pet was bitten.
- Keep pet quiet and immobilized as best as possible.
- Do not apply ice or tourniquets to the affected area.
- Do not attempt to suck venom from the wound. Commercially available “snake bite kits” have not been proven to be of any benefit to bite victims.
- Call your veterinarian or Route 66 Veterinary Emergency & Critical Care Center and proceed to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible! Quick care is essential to achieve the best possible outcome.
Emergency Rattlesnake Bite Treatment:
- Antivenin is the gold standard treatment for snake bite and typically provides the best outcome.
- Antivenins are solutions consisting of antibodies to venom that neutralize the venom when administered intravenously. This significantly decreases recovery time and the severity of injuries from the bite.
- In severe bites it is often lifesaving. However, multiple doses might be needed to achieve the best response.
- Antivenin should be administered as quickly as possible after the bite as it will lose effectiveness if more than 4 hours have elapsed since the bite.
- The most common adverse effect from antivenin is anaphylaxis, a life threatening allergic reaction. Serum sickness, an autoimmune disorder that has a delayed onset is another concern. However, both of these adverse events had been decreased dramatically with the newest antivenins.
- Treatment with antivenin can be quite expensive, however when compared to conservative therapy the total cost of treatment is often less thanks to less time in the hospital and less severe injuries.
Other rattlesnake bite treatments
- Your veterinarian will utilize many other tools to treat snake bite. IV fluids will be used to treat shock, help flush the toxins from the body and maintain hydration.
- All snake bites are very painful thus a variety of pain medications will be utilized to minimize pain and suffering.
- Antibiotics may be used to prevent secondary infections. Antihistamines are often used when administering antivenin to reduce the risk of allergic reaction but are otherwise of no benefit.
- Steroids, while a common treatment in the past are now considered to be contraindicated.
- Several laboratory tests may be performed when your pet is admitted to the hospital, these include a complete blood cell count and measuring baseline coagulation values.
- After the initial crisis surgical reconstruction of the wound site may be indicated depending on the location and severity of tissue damage associated with the bites.