As the temperature rises, the climate is perfect for Rattlesnakes to come out; and they are active from March through September. This year it is expected that many more snakes will be out and about due to our unusually weather patterns this year and last year. For people that take their canines camping, hiking, and/or hunting in the areas surrounding Stockton, both they and their buddies are at a significant risk for a snake encounter.
Rattlesnake bites commonly occur on in animals on the legs or face. The level of toxicity depends on the age and type of the snake, as well as the size of the dog. In 20-25% of bites, no venom is injected. 30% of bites are mild and only cause local inflammation and pain with no systemic effects. 40% of bites are severe and cause systemic problems. And 5% are fatal.
When a bite occurs, and venom is released, the venom works to destroy blood vessels as well as clotting function. Blood then pools into tissues causing marked swelling. The body eventually goes into shock from the blood loss, and death can easily occur in a very short amount of time. Swelling from facial wounds can also interfere with breathing.
All snake bites in animals require immediate veterinary care. Walk your buddy slowly from the trauma site to your car. Running will increase the toxin circulation. Do not place a tourniquet or slice open the bite wound. Your veterinarian will give intravenous fluids to your cherished companion. Antivenin may be recommended if available. This product helps to counteract the snake venom is most effective within 4 hours of the bite time, and can cost $400-700 per vial; larger patients may need several vials. Patients will typically be hospitalized for 1-2 days. Antihistamines and other anti-inflammatory medications may be used; and blood transfusions may be recommended. Alternative therapies may be used.
There are a few things that you can do to help protect your cherished companions from being snake bite victims.
Rattlesnake vaccine is an important tool to help protect against the severe life threatening reaction to Rattlesnake bites. It protects against the majority of Rattlesnakes that occur in California, and has good cross reactivity for the species the live in outlying states. This vaccine helps to make the reaction much less severe by stimulating the production of antibodies to the snake venom. Vaccines are administered in a series of 2 injections 4 weeks apart; larger dogs and very small dogs should receive a third inoculation 4 weeks later. This should be boostered annually in the spring.
Rattlesnake avoidance clinics can also help by teaching dogs to not go near Rattlesnakes, as well as alert you and your family members to the presence of these dangerous creatures. Our local San Joaquin Delta Quail and Upland Wildlife Federation Group will be hosting an event this month on June 23 and 24 at the Stockton Ball Room. The fee is $65.00 per dog. It is presented by a professional herpetologist, Robert Kettle. For more information see the website at sjdquwf.org or call (209) 484-6800.
Rattlesnakes tend to be out more at sundown. They are normally not out in the open; but nestled around rocks and in shrubs or brush. When in snake inhabited environments, wear hiking boots and thick socks, as well as long pants. Be alert and observant of where you are walking. Stay on trails and avoid areas with tall brush. Keep your dog on a leash at this time of day. If you see a snake, don’t agitate it. Use a flashlight if walking at night, and keep tents zipped when camping. Don’t reach in areas you can’t see, a walking stick is a safer way to probe areas. With some forethought you can keep you and your cherished companions safe and enjoy the outdoors.