Can a Rattlesnake Kill a Dog?

If you live in a place where rattlesnakes are found, it’s only natural to be concerned for your dog’s safety.

You may wonder what would happen if your dog were bitten by a rattlesnake.

The simple fact is that rattlesnakes can kill dogs, although it is often possible to get a timely treatment that saves your dog’s life

The critical factor in saving your dog’s life is getting treatment as soon as possible.

There is a lot to consider in protecting your dog from rattlesnake bites.

In this article, we will guide you through a series of frequently asked questions and answers to give you everything you need to know about caring for your dog after a rattlesnake bite, vaccinating your dog against rattlesnake bites, and preventing rattlesnake bites from ever happening in the first place.

The most important thing to do, however, is to take your pet to the vet immediately after a bite.

What to Do When My Dog is Bitten by a Rattlesnake?

The most important thing to do when you see your dog being bitten by a rattlesnake is to make sure your dog isn’t bitten twice.

Remove your dog from the situation as quickly as possible without getting bitten yourself.

Immobilize the area (usually a leg or paw) that was bitten. Be aware that your dog is in pain and may snap at you.

Carry your dog to safety, keeping him as calm as possible.

Don’t try to suck the poison out of the wound, and don’t break the skin around the wound.

Do not apply pressure to the bite or try to stop the spread of poison with a tourniquet. These historical home remedies for snakebite make the injury worse.

Keep the wound below the level of the heart, and take your dog to an emergency veterinary clinic as fast as you can.

Don’t panic when a rattlesnake bites. Between 10 and 50 percent of all rattlesnake bites are “dry,” that is, they don’t deliver any poison.

You can’t count on a bite being dry, however, so it is always necessary to take your dog to the vet after a rattlesnake bite.

What to Do If I am Not Sure My Dog was Bitten by a Rattlesnake?

If you just suspect that your dog has been bitten by a rattlesnake, it is still a good idea to go to the nearest emergency animal hospital.

If you are not sure that you would be taking your dog to the right place, call ahead to make sure.

Over 80 percent of dogs will survive a rattlesnake bite if they receive veterinary care in the first hour after the bite.

The smaller the dog, the more important it is to get treatment right away.

Dogs are most likely to be bitten when they are trying to catch the rattlesnake. Rattlesnake bites most commonly occur on the legs, neck, and face.

A rattlesnake bite on a dog often does not cause a lot of swelling. Some dogs don’t experience a lot of pain.

Symptoms that your dog has actually been bitten and needs emergency treatment include:

  • Shaking, trembling, or twitching.
  • Unsteadiness or weakness in the hind legs.
  • Frothing at the mouth or unusual drooling.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Difficulty getting up.
  • Vomiting, diarrhea, or bloody urine.
  • Fainting or sudden weakness, followed by a brief recovery, and then a more complete collapse. This is a strong indication of poisoning by a snakebite.

Does it Make a Difference Where My Dog was Bitten?

Your dog has a better chance of survival if she is bitten on the face or on a leg.

These parts of a dog’s body tend to swell faster, blocking the circulation of venom to the rest of the body.

Dogs that are bitten on their sides, back, or belly may have as little as 30 minutes to live unless they can be given antivenin at a veterinary clinic.

How does Rattlesnake Venom Work?

Most of the time rattlesnakes use their venom to kill the rats, mice, rabbits, squirrels, and small birds on which they feed.

They poison their victims instead of squeezing them to death. Rattlesnakes also eat insects but do not bite them first.

Rattlesnakes have fangs that inject venom into their prey through syringe-like openings.

The fangs are connected to venom glands near the backs of their heads, at the outer edges of their jaws.

As a rattlesnake lunges forward to strike and bite, the muscles on the sides of the venom glands push venom into the fangs.

A rattlesnake’s fangs fold up against the roof of its mouth when it isn’t biting, so it doesn’t bite itself.

Rattlesnakes have fangs and venom even before they hatch. Baby rattlesnakes can kill with their venom from the minute they emerge from the egg.

Baby rattlesnakes usually can’t bite deep enough to release their venom directly into the bloodstreams of large dogs, but they can sometimes reach blood vessels in small dogs, causing death very quickly without treatment.

Rattlesnake venom contains over 20 toxic compounds.

It includes neurotoxins that paralyze the rattlesnake’s prey, along with digestive enzymes that begin to break down its flesh.

It neutralizes blood clotting factors, so it can travel quickly through your dog’s body. In as little as an hour, it can travel to every tissue in your dog’s body.

The rattlesnakes of California and Arizona are particularly deadly.

The tiger rattlesnake, found in south-central Arizona, has the most toxic venom of any snake in North and South America.

The Mojave rattlesnake is nearly as toxic. These and other, less toxic rattlesnakes can spit their venom as far as 3 feet (about a meter) into your dog’s eyes, causing blindness if not treated.

What Will the Vet Do When I Bring in my Dog for Treatment of a Rattlesnake Bite?

In most cases, the first thing your veterinarian will do will be to give your dog antivenin to prevent any further damage from the rattlesnake bite.

If it has been more than four hours since your dog was bitten, your vet may offer other measures.

Antivenin is administered with IV fluids to ensure circulation throughout your dog’s body.

After administering antivenin, your vet will give the wound a vigorous cleaning.

Even when a snakebite injects relatively little venom, it may deliver a potent load of bacteria.

These bacteria can cause systemic infection and death even if your dog survives the venom. To prevent this from happening, your vet will give your dog antibiotics.

There may be a need for pain management, blood replacement, and other products.

Most of the time, your dog will need to spend at least one night in the animal hospital under the veterinarian’s observation.

Once you get your dog home, it’s important to avoid any heavy exercise or strenuous activity for a couple of weeks.

This is a good time to allow your dog just to relax and recover. Short walks on a leash are fine, but running and playing aren’t until your dog recovers.

What to Do If you Live Far from Vet/Hospital?

It used to be that a dog bitten by an adult Western Diamondback Rattlesnake and injected with a full load of venom faced certain death, especially if this happened more than an hour away from veterinary help.

Since 2003, there has been a rattlesnake vaccine made by Red Rock Biologics that gives your dog a fighting chance to survive long enough to get to an animal hospital.

It is important to understand that the rattlesnake vaccine is not complete protection from the effects of a rattlesnake bite.

It gives protection equivalent to about three vials of antivenin, but most dogs will need four to six vials of antivenin to survive a rattlesnake bite.

What is in Rattlesnake Vaccine?

Canine rattlesnake vaccine consists of toxic compounds from the venom of Crotalus atrox, the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake.

The toxins are deactivated and mixed with preservatives and aluminum hydroxide, which is added to the vaccine to cause a stronger immune response.

Is Rattlesnake Vaccine Effective Against All Rattlesnake Bites?

Rattlesnake vaccine offers the best protection against Western Diamondback bites.

Western Diamondback Rattlesnakes are most common in southern Arizona and New Mexico, southwestern Oklahoma, northern Mexico, and across most of Texas.

Western Diamondbacks are not picky about where they live.

They are found in forests, deserts, grasslands, rocky hillsides, and backyards, from sea level up to an elevation of about 6500 feet (2000 meters).

Rattlesnake vaccine also offers some protection against bites from snakes that produce a similar venom, including copperheads and 15 other kinds of rattlesnakes, but not cottonmouth snakes, coral snakes, or the especially poisonous Mojave rattlesnake.

It offers limited protection against the venom of the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, which is found along the central Gulf Coast, over all of Florida, and along the Atlantic seaboard up to Maryland.

Of the 150,000 dogs and cats that are bitten by snakes every year in the United States, a large percentage of them are bitten by Western Diamondbacks.

If you live in an area where there are Western Diamondbacks, getting your dog vaccinated is a good idea.

How does Rattlesnake Vaccine Work?

Rattlesnake vaccine stimulates your dog’s immune system to produce antibodies to rattlesnake venom.

It is optimally effective when it’s given in two injections about 30 days apart.

Dogs don’t get any substantial protection from rattlesnake bites until about 30 days after the second shot.

Rattlesnake vaccine is fully functional about 45 days after the second shot and lasts about six months.

To have continuing protection, it’s important to take your dog to the vet for a booster about five months after the first booster and every six months after that.

How much protection your dog gets from the vaccine depends on how many antibodies her immune system makes in response to the vaccine.

Some dogs won’t respond as well to the vaccine as others, but still get enough protection to save their lives when they are bitten.

Vaccines are not intended to be the only treatment for rattlesnake bites.

A bite sustained by a small dog or a bite made by a large snake may be more than the dog’s immune system can handle.

They are only designed to reduce the severity of the snakebite.

Are there any Side Effects from the Vaccine?

Between 0.03 percent and 1 percent of dogs experience swelling or tenderness at the vaccination site.

Never give your dog any kind of painkiller intended for human consumption. Even a children’s dose may be toxic to your dog.

Treat injection site pain with painkillers given to you by your vet and with warm, moist compresses.

Benefits of Rattlesnake Vaccine

Veterinarians report that vaccinated dogs have longer to get to the animal hospital for successful treatment.

Their symptoms are less likely to be severe, and they are more likely to survive.

Usually, vaccinated dogs don’t have tissue death at the site of the bite. Vaccinated dogs suffer less pain, and are less likely to suffer permanent injury from the bite.

It’s important to keep in mind that even non-venomous bites can result in serious infections.

It’s important to have a vet check out every snakebite, even if it is not venomous.

Does Pet Insurance Pay for Treatment of Rattlesnake Bites?

Some, but not all, pet health insurance policies will pay for the treatment of a rattlesnake bite.

Typically, there is a 20 percent deductible and the insurance policy pays the rest. Without insurance, treatment for a rattlesnake bite can cost $3,000 or more.

Even if you can’t insure your pet for most illnesses, it’s possible to get coverage for accidents.

With most pet insurance companies, every pet is guaranteed acceptance for accident-only polices, regardless of age or preexisting health conditions.

Accident-only insurance for dogs costs an average of $194 per year and sometimes includes wellness visits.

Most plans allow you to choose your own vet. You can use the nearest animal hospital in case of an emergency. But check your policy provisions before you buy the policy.

What Can I do to Prevent Rattlesnake Bites?

Rattlesnakes like to lurk undercover when they hunt for food.

Keeping your lawn mowed is the single most important thing you can do to prevent rattlesnakes from staying in your yard.

It’s also important to stack firewood in a rack with at least 18 inches (45 cm) clearance off the ground, and to keep the brush, trash, and debris from accumulating anywhere on your property where your dog may roam.

It also helps to keep your dog on a leash when you go for walks.

It’s fine to let them play unleashed in a dog park, but you don’t want your dog wandering off to explore while you are out for exercise.

If your dog runs beside you on your own runs or bike rides, stay clear of high grasses, bushes, and brush where rattlesnakes might be hiding.

If you live in a snake-infested area, keep an eye on your dog when she is playing outside.

Make sure your dog is trained to obey your “Come” command so you can keep her out of trouble.

Chances are that your dog will sense the snake before you do. Pay attention to your dog’s attempts to warn you before you proceed into a snake-infested area.

People who live in rattlesnake country need to have an established relationship with a vet who offers emergency treatment for snakebites.

Know whether your vet can treat snakebite, and have a backup plan for those times your vet is out of town or otherwise available.

Get your dog vaccinated for rattlesnake bites, and keep your dog’s play space as safe as possible.

What Should I Do If I am Bitten While I Am Trying to Help My Dog?

Rattlesnakes don’t usually hang around at the exact location where they bite an animal, but they will usually be hiding somewhere no more than 20 feet (6 meters) from the place where they bit your dog.

It doesn’t happen very often, but an unusually large or aggressive rattlesnake may strike twice, biting the dog once and also the human trying to rescue it.

If you possibly can, take a digital photo of the snake. Remember what it looks like so you can describe it for the emergency crew.

When this happens, both you and your dog will need emergency medical care.

Your dog is 20 times more likely to die of the snakebite than you are, but you should not wait to get treatment for your dog before you get treatment for yourself.

Call both the ER and the animal hospital. It takes 60 minutes to mix the antivenins used to treat you and your pet.

Then arrange for emergency transportation for both of you to your respective emergency rooms.

Don’t try to drive yourself unless absolutely necessary. Ask for help getting your dog to the vet as soon as possible so you can get treatment for yourself.

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