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  • Writer's pictureDr. Allie

The Dangers That Slither During Summer

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

As summer is upon us, so is the emergence of scaly critters including

the infamous rattlesnake. In our area, there are multiple species of

snake that live here, but only one that is venomous - the Southern

Pacific Rattlesnake. Sometimes confused with their cousins the gopher

snake due to their similar coloring, rattlesnakes have a larger

triangular head, while gopher snakes tend to be slimmer and thinner.

If unsure though, err on the side of caution. Remember that

rattlesnakes may not always have an obvious rattle. These reptiles are

a part of life when living in the foothills of Southern California, so

here are some helpful hints for taking care of our furry friends

during Rattlesnake season.

What to do if your pet is bitten: The most important thing to do if

your dog is bitten, is to stay calm and keep your dog calm and quiet,

and immediately take your pet to the nearest veterinary emergency

hospital. It is advised to call ahead while you are on your way, so

that the staff know to expect you and can begin to prepare for your

pet’s arrival. It is also important to make sure that the hospital

carries rattlesnake antivenom. Most large emergency hospitals keep it

on hand, but because of its expense, many smaller non-emergency vet

clinics don’t. If you are unsure if your dog has been bitten by a

rattlesnake, here are some clues. Oftentimes you will see puncture

marks and swelling, but the difference between swelling from a snake

bite, and from another cause such as an insect bite, is that the snake

bite will usually be extremely painful. Depending on the severity of

the bite, the veterinary clinic may recommend hospitalization,

treatment with antivenom, pain medications, antibiotics, and other

supportive care.

To prevent a snakebite, consider rattlesnake avoidance training.

Often, this is a one day clinic at which your dog is trained to avoid

rattlesnakes with real, live snakes so your dog can learn the smell

and sounds to avoid. They may use an electronic collar to give your

dog a small shock when they get close to the rattlesnake. This helps

your dog to learn that the sight, smell, and sound of the rattlesnake

is associated with an adverse stimuli - the small shock that the

collar gives off. The goal is that your dog then learns to avoid the

snake completely when he encounters one in the real world.

Another option to consider is the rattlesnake vaccine. Anecdotally

veterinarians report that snake bite patients who have received the

vaccine fare better than their non-vaccinated counterparts. The idea

is that if bitten, the consequences of the bite will be less grave

than if your dog is not vaccinated. Please remember though, just

because your dog has had the rattlesnake vaccine, does NOT mean that

he does not need medical care immediately after a bite. It is still

vital that you take your dog to an emergency clinic to be evaluated

after a snake bite, whether or not he or she is vaccinated.

Rattlesnakes and other critters are a part of life here in the

foothills, but we can find ways to coexist and to protect our pets at

the same time.

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