August 2014 by Dr. Ryan Bullock
I remember the frantic phone call well last summer when my brother’s wife was on the other end of the line telling me that their English Setter “Belle” had just been bitten several times by a rattlesnake (3 times in the neck and 5 times in the chest to be exact) while out on their land. My first thought was to get her emergency care, but my second thought was “thank goodness I had given her a rattlesnake vaccine 3 weeks prior when I had her in the clinic for a dental cleaning”. Belle spent several days in the hospital, but she eventually pulled through and is doing great now! I have no doubt that she would have died if she hadn’t been vaccinated.
In 2005, a company called Red Rock Biologics (redrockbiologics.com) developed a “rattlesnake vaccine”. The purpose of the vaccine is to lessen the severity of damage done by a rattlesnake bite and hopefully save pet’s lives. It works by producing protective antibodies in your pet’s body that will help to neutralize the venom. It is most effective with Western Diamondback bites, but is also at least partially effective against all other rattlesnakes except the Mojave. It is effective against Copperheads, but IS NOT effective against Water Moccasins (Cotton Mouths) or Coral Snakes.
The vaccine only lessens the severity of the bite, but does not entirely mitigate all of its effects, so you should still seek emergency care in every case! Factors such as size of pet, size of snake, location of bite, and amount of venom injected all contribute to the end result. Every snake bite is different and all need emergency veterinary care!
So what results have we seen? Last summer, we had 13 dogs come into the clinics with rattlesnake bites. Of these, 6 were vaccinated and 7 were not. All 6 vaccinated dogs survived and are doing well now. Of the 7 that were not vaccinated, 3 passed away as a result of their bites, and the other 4 survived and are doing well. Some of the deceased received the full course of treatment with antivenin, some did not due to finances. All in all, I am impressed with the results and recommend vaccination for any “at risk” dog. I know “Belle” highly recommends it to all of her dog buddies!