It’s rattlesnake season in the southwest, and the Western Diamondback is out and about. While it’s fairly uncommon for humans to get bitten by rattlesnakes – only about 8,000 per year in the U.S., the vast majority non-lethal – dogs are at a much higher risk. Most dogs, especially young ones, are curious, explorative, and careless. If they come across a rattlesnake, they’ll probably approach it, and may even try to fight it. They may also simply run over one by accident.
Rattlesnake bites can be fatal for dogs, but most dogs can survive them as long as the proper steps are taken.
Before rattlesnake season begins – April through October – you should get your dog vaccinated for rattlesnake venom. The vaccine will trigger a natural immune response in your dog that lessens the venom’s effects. It doesn’t make the dog completely immune to rattlesnake venom, but it greatly increases the amount of time you have to get anti-venom, in the event your dog’s been bitten. The vaccine is especially important for dogs in rural areas since it will take them much longer to get to an emergency vet. An annual vaccination only costs about $50.
Keep Snakes Away
This is easier said than done, but there are some things you can do to keep rattlesnakes away from your yard:
- Keep your yard clean and free of debris and tall grass.
- Put up snake proof fencing around your yard.
- Keep your yard free of rodents, as they will attract snakes.
Rattlesnake Avoidance Class
It’s a good idea to see if any trainers in your area offer a rattlesnake avoidance class. These classes teach dogs to fear snakes and stay away from them.
If Your Dog Gets Bitten
Get Your Dog Away from the Snake
This might sound obvious, but some owners instinctually try to get rid of the snake instead of getting away from it. This only makes things worse. Once a rattlesnake is in attack mode, it holds its ground. Trying to shoo it away or hit it with a stick is only going to cause it to attack you. You need to get your dog away from it as quickly as possible without getting too close to the snake yourself.
Remove Your Dog’s Collar, Harness, Etc…
After your dog has been bitten, the bite area will swell quickly. This may alarm you, but do not try to restrict the swelling. Do the opposite: remove anything from your dog that might restrict swelling, including their collar and/or harness, and do not compress the wound or put ice on it – icing the wound can cause necrosis. If the swelling is restricted, the damage will only be worse.
Get to a Vet Quickly but Calmly
If your dog has not been vaccinated, you need to rush them to an emergency vet, but as calmly as possible. You do not want to get your dog excited or do anything that is going to increase their heart rate, as this will only spread the venom faster. As long as you remain calm, your dog should also remain calm.
If your dog has been vaccinated, you should still have them looked at by a vet, but it shouldn’t be necessary to immediately give them anti-venom.
It’s also important to know that the severity of a rattlesnake bite can vary a great deal. About 25% of rattlesnake bites are dry, which means the snake does not release any venom. This type of bite is a warning from the snake, telling the dog to back off. However, even if the snake does release its venom, there is still a good chance it won’t inject a full load. If your dog attacks the snake, that is when the snake will give it its worst bite; but if your dog simply gets to close, the snake will most likely give it a dry nip, telling it to get away.