Rattlesnakes: Dos and Don'ts
How can you protect your dog from snake bites?
Your dog, your stress level, and your bank account will be better off if you don't encounter a rattlesnake. The best way to protect your furry friend is the same way to protect him from fights, foxtails, getting lost, and being hit by a car: Use a leash and pay attention. It also helps to know the ways of your adversary. Rattlesnakes are most active in the heat of the day, and they are most frequently found around rocks, shrubs, and bushes, although they might bask in the open, especially in the morning.
There are trainers who offer rattlesnake aversion training. Dr. Dodds recommends this and so do we. A search on the internet will show a number of companies that offer aversion training. A phone call to local trainers may also turn up the name of an area specialist.
Of course, in our area with its many rural properties the greatest danger may be in our own backyards so it is critical that you know the symptoms of rattlesnake bite. If you don't recognize the symptoms you might delay rushing to the vet immediately and that delay could be fatal.
Immediate symptoms almost always include puncture wounds (can be bleeding), severe pain and swelling, and restlessness, panting, or drooling. Depending on how much venom the bite injected into your dog, and the size of your dog, any of these more severe symptoms may appear quickly or within a few hours:
lethargy, weakness, sometimes collapse
neurological signs including depressed respiration
What to do after a bite -- and what not to do
Unfortunately, dogs can be bitten even if their owners do everything right. If this happens to you, go straight to the vet, as soon as possible. Do not try to suck out the venom, do not cut the skin overlying the site, do not apply a tourniquet to the area, do not administer aspirin or any other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and do not ice the site.
Stay calm, try to keep your dog calm, and go to the vet. If your dog is small, carry him to the car. If not, walk him back. During the walk, focus on the fact that most rattlesnake bites are not fatal to dogs.
Ice, incisions, and tourniquets can exacerbate the tissue damage that is caused by the venom, and they do not significantly affect outcome. Aspirin and similar drugs can exacerbate blood clotting problems, and they might interfere with veterinary treatment. Venom sucking is an ineffective rural legend. It will not affect the outcome, and applying your lips to a painful wound on your dog's muzzle could cause your dog to bite you on the face.
Few vets carry anti-venom as it is extremely expensive and has a very short shelf life. Large emergency clinics may have it on hand but most small to medium clinics treat rattlesnake bites with pain medication, prednisone to reduce the swelling and inflammation and antibiotics to prevent infection.
A couple of years ago we had a very memorable morning when two of our clients, breeders of beautiful beagles, had ten of their dogs bitten when rattlesnakes entered their kennel. Thanks to speedy treatment nine of the ten were able to go home late that same day and the tenth, who had repeated bites on his face and was in the most serious condition, was able to go home the next day. This story had a happy ending and all ten beagles made a full recovery.