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For those of us who live in the Western United States, "Rattlesnake Season" is officially upon us! For Southern Californians, these snakes like the heat as much as we do; chances are if you are out on hiking trails, you will come across one at some point. With warmer temperatures and the coming of spring, the time is now to take extra precautions to protect yourself as well as your four‐legged companions.
Here in Southern California, the most common rattlesnake is the Western Diamondback. It is a large snake that is easily excitable and tends to hold its ground when threatened; it is highly defensive and will strike if provoked. Western Diamondback rattlesnakes are active year round, although their activity peaks during spring and summer, with most bites occurring between the months of April and October - the time when snakes, humans and dogs are all the most active outdoors. Rattlesnake venom contains hemotoxic elements that destroy blood cells and skin tissue, and cause severe localized swelling and internal bleeding. Although the amount of venom injected is proportional to the size of the snake, immature snakes may contain more neurotoxic elements, making them very dangerous.
Are rattlesnake bites common? According to the California Poison Control Center, approximately 800 people are bitten each year; it is estimated that number is significantly higher in dogs. Humans are much more capable of surviving a rattlesnake bite than our four legged friends, due to their size in proportion to the volume of venom received. Fortunately, approximately 20-30% of bites are “dry” in which no venom is injected. Regardless, when a dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, it is critical to seek veterinary care as soon as possible.
Veterinary treatment for a rattlesnake bite involves preventing and controlling shock and blood clotting problems, neutralizing venom and preventing secondary infections. Intensive treatment includes IV fluids, careful observation, blood transfusions when needed, antibiotics, and administration of Antivenin injections. The challenge with Antivenin is that not only is it expensive, it is in limited supply; not all veterinarians carry this drug on a regular basis. Additionally, it must be administered very quickly after a bite to maximize its effectiveness. There is also a rattlesnake vaccine available for dogs; given in an initial dose of two injections, 30 days apart, followed by an annual booster. The vaccine does not replace the need for prompt veterinary treatment but may reduce the amount of Antivenin required. We encourage families to talk to your veterinarian to learn about the different kinds of treatment, their availability, and their recommendations about preventative measures. If you carry pet insurance, there is a good chance your policy will cover these treatments as well.
What is the best defense during Rattlesnake Season? Being prepared! We caution everyone to be on the lookout for these slithery inhabitants whenever you are out on the trails, and avoid hiking in late afternoon hours when they are the most active. Be careful to avoid letting Fluffy or Fido get too gregarious in their inspection of brush and leaves along trail borders. Stay on trails, keep your dog on a leash, and use a walking stick to rustle brush and leaves to alert snakes of your presence. Lastly, have a plan in place should you ever run into trouble. Most veterinarians keep regular hours during the week, but will have an 24 hour emergency facility that they refer patients to for incidents that occur beyond their operating schedule ‐ be sure your plan includes what to do if you were in need of seeking care at a time when your regular veterinarian is not available. Having a plan in place should a bite ever occur will make all the difference for you and your families!
On behalf of all of us at Angel City Pit Bulls, be careful out there ... thank you for looking out both for yourselves, and for all of our furry friends in these coming warm months!