When it comes to rattlesnakes biting pets, the victim is usually a curious dog. Cats can get bitten too but seem to be more wary (cat lovers would say “smarter”) around snakes.
Rattlesnake bites can take a heavy toll on a pet’s health as well as an owner’s wallet. The venom destroys tissue and affects the nervous system. It can even result in death. And antivenin doesn’t come cheap and a bitten animal may need more than one vial.
A rattlesnake vaccine is now available, and like a tetanus shot, acts as a preventative, building up antibodies prior to an attack. The vaccine is administered by injection in two doses, one month apart. Booster shots are scheduled depending on the length of rattlesnake season in the area. However, even if a vaccinated pet is bitten, antivenin may still be recommended because there is no way of judging the amount or potency of the venom received which can vary. Certain species, such as the Mojave, and baby rattlers who have not yet learned to control the amount of venom they release may deliver a more potent bite.
The best treatment is prevention. Don’t let pets and snakes meet. Check your yard, even if it is walled, for snakes. Supervise your dog on walks; don’t let your pet run on ahead of you where he might “sniff out” a snake hiding in a crevice or under a rock. If your pet does get bitten, it is a medical emergency so go to a veterinarian as soon as possible. There is no first aid for snakebites.
For those dogs that are “repeat offenders” and just can’t stay away from that rattler, “snake-proofing” your pet (which usually involves a shock collar) can be effective in training curious canines to keep their distance. Remember an ounce of prevention is worth an ounce of antivenin.