Unfortunately, snakebites are a relatively common occurrence in Southern California. There are four main types of Rattlesnakes we see in our region: Western Diamondback, Northern Pacific, Southern Pacific and Mojave. it is always recommended that a pet be evaluated by a veterinarian following a rattlesnake bite. Important things to note: stay calm—when you are calm, your pet is more likely to be as well. Do not try to tourniquet the leg if that is where the bite occurred. By cutting off the blood supply to the area, you may actually cause more harm than good. Do not try to suction the wound, again this may cause more damage to the tissues. Find out where the closest veterinary hospital is and phone ahead if possible to see if they are equipped to treat this type of emergency. If you are able to identify the type of snake it can be helpful, but is not necessary—we usually treat all bites based on the signs the animal is showing not by the snake itself. Please do not ever try to bring the snake in with the pet.
There are many variables that contribute to the outcome following a bite and the possible need for expensive anti-venom treatment. These include not only the species of snake (which is usually difficult to know), the age of the snake, the type of bite (defensive or other) the location of the bite (limb, trunk, face, etc), the size of the pet and more. We also know that 25% of all rattlesnake bites are “dry” bites, where the snake releases no venom at all. Bloodwork may be performed on the pet to look for certain changes that occur with the red blood cells following the toxic effects of venom. These are all variables that lead us to treat with anti-venom or not, and guide us in predicting the pet’s chances of survival. All pets with snake bites should have their wounds evaluated, cleaned, be observed and treated for shock with intravenous fluids and pain medicines when indicated.
There is a commercially available vaccine made by Red Rock Biologics against one species of rattlesnake (Western Diamondback). The vaccine has only been studied in dogs by the company who makes it, and their results have not been verified independently. Furthermore, the vaccine does not claim any protection against other species of rattlesnake, including the Moajve–which can cause even more severe, life threatening neurologic reactions than the other three snakes. The vaccine claims to reduce the severity of a bite, but treatment is still recommended. So far, the best prevention for snake bites is avoiding exposure to snakes and snake aversion training.