Monday, October 22 , 2018, 3:40 am | Fog/Mist 62º


Bonnie Franklin: It’s Rattlesnake Season for You and Your Dog

The mountains along Santa Barbara County’s South Coast have been denuded by fire, flash flooding and debris flows, and snakes have been displaced from their habitats by the upheaval. Summer is on its way, the days are getting longer — and snakes are waking up from hibernation.

Rattlesnakes emerge hungry for their first meal and are on the move. The problem is that much of their typical prey, such as mice, perished in the disaster so the snakes are moving around more and are edging closer to residential areas in search of a meal.

Also, during a drought, snakes move around more in search of water. Rattlesnakes are cold-blooded and thus tend to be more active from dawn to dusk.

Rattlesnake venom is a neurotoxin; its function is to immobilize the snake’s victim, kill it and help the snake digest it. When any animal is bitten by a rattlesnake, there is tissue destruction and excessive bleeding as the venom disrupts the integrity of blood vessels, causing excessive swelling and many other pathological reactions.

The bite is extremely painful and the victimized animal can die from shock. A rattlesnake bite takes 30 to 60 minutes for envenomation (poisoning by venom) or it can be delayed for 24 to 72 hours. The length of time since a snake has eaten also affects the strength of its venom.

Your dog may get curious on a hike or even in a field near your home and encounter a snake. If your dog is bitten, get it to the local veterinary emergency room immediately. If the dog is bitten in a leg, try to immobilize that leg and carry the animal to the car for transport. Restricting its activity will slow the reaction of the venom. If possible, elevate the limb above the dog’s heart while en route to the ER.

Old western movies show people placing a tourniquet, cutting into a bite and using suction to get the venom out. Please do not do any of these things.

In case of a snake bite:

» No tourniquet

» No ice

» No medication

» No suction

» Do not attempt to capture the snake

These actions will not help, and instead they may harm your dog while slowing you down as you try to get to a veterinary ER.

The ER will have anti-venom that will help inactivate the snake venom. It must be administered within four hours after a bite to be fully effective.

A rattlesnake vaccine may reduce serious reactions from a snake bite, but the vaccine does not eliminate the need for ER care. Snake fangs have a lot of bacteria so infection also can be a problem.

It is a good idea to keep your dog on a leash, even when you are in the foothills. Don’t allow your dog to investigate a dead snake. Newly dead snakes can have muscle reactions that can result in bites.

When hiking with your dog in rattlesnake country, stay on open paths. Digging under rocks, logs and debris piles should be especially discouraged. Owners who live in a rattlesnake habitat should clear brush and firewood away from their homes, and keep grass mowed in areas where their dogs frequent.

Ma & Paw Kennel in Simi Valley offers clinics and classes on rattlesnake avoidance for your dog. Canine training will teach your dog to recognize the sight, smell and sound of a rattlesnake.

Owner and trainer Gina Gables says this training may save your dog’s life and yours, too, as your dog alerts you to a hiding rattlesnake.

Click here for more information about snake-safe training, or call 805.523.3423. Private training as well as group clinics are available. Many hunting dogs also take the classes.

If your dog does get bitten by a rattlesnake, Gables advises that you call ahead to the ER so the facility can get ready with trauma care. She also recommends that you check area ERs for anti-venom prior to hiking in unfamiliar back country. That is a great suggestion.

There are two schools of training for rattlesnake avoidance: Training using a shock collar with muzzled rattlesnakes and training using very life-like simulated rattlesnakes that will shock the dog if it bites the snake.

The rattlesnake vaccine, produced by Red Rock Biologics, is specifically designed to produce antibodies against the venom of the Western diamondback rattlesnake. The vaccine works by creating protective antibodies that help neutralize venom, so dogs experience less pain and swelling after a snake bite.

Dogs that are bitten may also require less antivenin, which can be fairly costly.

Factors that can influence the effectiveness of the vaccine include the location of the bite, the type of snake and the amount of venom injected.

The rattlesnake vaccine does not prevent your dog from life-threatening consequences of a rattlesnake bite! This vaccine may give you more time to get to the veterinarian and decrease swelling, but the rattlesnake bite is still life-threatening.

The vaccine also may be effective against other snakes with similar venom, such as the sidewinder, timber rattlesnake and copperhead. The vaccine does not protect against the venom of water moccasins or coral snakes.

Remember that rattlesnakes bite dogs as a defense. They will not attack a dog. They lash out only to defend themselves. They see your dog as the predator. So practicing avoidance of rattlesnakes is the best defense.

Dr. Bonnie Franklin is a veterinarian who grew up in Santa Barbara and owns Your Pals Pet Hospital in Goleta. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from a joint program of Washington State University and Oregon State University, a master’s degree in wildlife biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and does consulting work with the U.S. Forest Service. Click here to contact her, and click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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