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For the love of you pet: Rattlesnake vaccine provides some protection from snake bites

By By John Beck
April 12, 2012 at midnight
Updated April 11, 2012 at 11:12 p.m.


My neighbor gets his dogs vaccinated with some kind of snake vaccine. What is it and do my dogs need it?

There is a vaccination that can be given to dogs (and sometimes cats - as determined by the veterinarian) to help lessen the effects of a snakebite. Believe it or not, it is already the season and my office has already seen a couple of snake bites this last week.

This vaccine is the Rattlesnake Vaccine and was developed to protect against western diamondback rattlesnake venom. Venom from other snakes is similar to this venom and because of that this vaccine will provide protection against the venoms of the western rattlesnake (including the prairie, great basin, northern and southern pacific rattlesnakes), sidewinder, timber rattlesnake, massasauga & the copperhead. The vaccine does not protect against water moccasin, mojave rattlesnake or coral snakes.

This vaccine can be started in puppies that are at least 16 weeks of age. An initial vaccine is given and a booster should be administered one month later. After that, the pet can be vaccinated once a year (for low risk patients - mostly indoor or city) up to three times a year (for high risk patients - hunters, search and rescue).

After being fully vaccinated, your pet will build antibodies against the snake's venom. If and when they are bit, the reaction to the bite is not as extreme as if they were not vaccinated.

All snakebites whether vaccinated or not, are considered emergencies and should be seen by your veterinarian. The vaccine can lessen the effect of swelling or tissue necrosis but will probably not provide so much protection that there are no side effects whatsoever.

The location of the bite wound and the amount of time that has elapsed since the previous vaccination are all factors in determining how effective the vaccine will be.

The vaccine is licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture. It is safe to use in pregnant and lactating dogs, puppies as young as four months and healthy older dogs. Side effects are not common but the majority that where reported consisted of a small amount of swelling at the injection site. The vaccine is only available from a veterinarian not through feed stores or pet stores.

We recommend dogs that live in a country setting or that are used for hunting or search and rescue be vaccinated. We recommend boosting the vaccine approximately six to eight weeks before hunting season or snake season begins because the number of antibodies is the highest about six weeks after the vaccine is given.

If you have any concerns or questions, feel free to contact me or your current veterinarian.

Dr. John Beck has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. Submit questions to Dr. Beck at drjohnbeck@hotmail.com.

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