Our recent heat wave in March, lured many a Rattlesnake from deep slumber, so until the cooler days of fall, those of us with dogs and horses need to be especially vigilant when hiking, and within the boundaries of our own property.
Snake bites occur in equal numbers on hiking trails and in back yards. With their natural curiosity, and sometimes prey drive, our canine companions are twenty times more likely to be bitten by a venomous snake, than we are. About eighty percent of bites occur around the muzzle.
Simple preventative measures should include inspecting your property, particularly rocky areas and wood piles. Rattlesnakes could be hiding anywhere, around, and under the house, and even curled up in a potted plant ! Just be extra aware of their ability to camouflage themselves.This year, the welcome rain has created a denser carpet of greenery and a profusion of gophers, the favored menu item for snakes. Where there are gopher holes, snakes could be lurking. Gopher holes can also offer passageway underneath ‘snake fencing’.Clearing all non native grasses and overgrown vegetation is a good start. For those who love to hike, staying on designated trails is a must, and avoid night hikes, or rides. Keep your dogs leashed and your eyes on the trail ahead. If your horse shows hesitation or acts nervously, give him the benefit of the doubt, and use strong lower leg wraps for added protection.
Rattlesnakes, like most wild creatures, are not looking for an encounter, and will usually slither off to safety on feeling the vibration of approaching feet and paws. The heavy vibration made by horses makes them a little less prone, but not immune to bites. As with dogs, horses are most often bitten on the head, especially the nose. For either animal, head and torso bites are the most severe because the venom can more easily enter the bloodstream. Bites on the lower legs, primarily consisting of bone and tendon, are less dangerous.
Obviously if you encounter a snake on a trail, unless there is ample room to safely move past them, retreat. A mature snake will not attack unless provoked or threatened. Juvenile snakes are less predictable, and more likely to strike repeatedly.
Regardless of how cautious and responsible you are, there is still always a risk. An antivenin inoculation is not in itself a preventative measure, but helps your animal develop anti-bodies which in turn help neutralize and slow the immediate effects of a bite. It reduces risk of permanent injury and gives you more time to get to the nearest vet, for full treatment, before greater damage is done, especially to the organs. The purpose of a snake’s venom is to paralyze, and thus immobilize it’s victim, commonly rodents and birds, for easier ingestion. Fortunately, 98% of dogs survive if the right protocol is taken.
Unlike allergies or bee stings, swelling from a snake bite will be localized
Most veterinarian’s recommend two concurrent vaccines, a month apart initially, followed by an annual booster, administered at the onset of Spring weather, to maximize
the potency of the serum, which is six months. Treatment for a bite is costly, so preventative measures, of any kind, are definitely preferable. One vial of antivenin serum can be as much as $800, and several vials may be needed, in addition to supportive care treatment, such as intravenous fluids, antibiotics, antihistamines, and possibly blood transfusions. Variables include the size and age of the dog, the bite area and the amount of venom released.
Alternatively, if you are opposed to the toxicity of vaccines, you may want to spend some time researching homeopathic remedies, and reading testimonials from people who have successfully used a combination of natural remedies to help control the effects of a bite in an emergency situation, or for aftercare ( but not as a substitution for a vet visit, unless you are an experienced practitioner ) These may include, Lachesis, Hypericum, Ledum, Cedron, Echinacea and MSM.
If your companion animal does fall victim to a venomous snake bite, as with any emergency situation, staying calm is crucial, as is preparedness, whether they have been vaccinated or not:
Check with your primary vet to ensure they carry the antivenin for treating a bite.
Locate a 24 hour emergency clinic close to you, or where you hike, or camp.
Carry a pre-determined dosage of an antihistamine such as Benedril, or a homeopathic treatment kit, especially if you plan to be in a remote area.
If possible, carry your dog ( extra measures might include keeping a stretcher of some sort in your car, or home for larger, heavy dogs ) Do not allow your animal to run or exert themselves in anyway. The higher the heart rate, the faster the venom circulates through the blood stream. Try to position your dog so the bite is below heart level.
The American Association of Equine Practitioners advises riders to carry two 6” pieces of garden hose, to be lubricated, inserted and taped into the horse’s nostrils, in the event that a head bite creates breathing problems, until a vet can treat the swelling.
A more pro-active approach, is a Rattlesnake aversion class. The basic premise is to train the dog to completely avoid confrontation. An electric stimulus collar emits a very low voltage charge, when the dog is drawn toward the smell, movement or sound of the snake. Although some may have reservations about subjecting their dogs to a form of shock training, the process is safe and efficient, deterring all but the most stubborn canine from venturing anywhere near a Rattler. Sometimes effectiveness can be lost over time and further training is needed. Obviously the age and health of your dog needs to be factored in.The closest resource for Topanga is the Mountain Restoration Trust, which holds monthly clinics in Calabasas. See below for more resources and links. Enjoy this beautiful Spring weather and be safe!
Resources for Local Rattlesnake Vaccinations & Aversion Classes
Rattlesnake Vaccines range from $25-45
Aversion Classes range from $70-125
Animal Clinic of Topanga http://www.animalclinictopanga.com ( Vaccine Clinic 2nd Wednesday of every month )
Malibu Coast Animal Hospital http://www.malibuvets.com/services
Malibu Feed Bin ( Vaccine Clinic on the 1st Saturday of every month 3:30-5pm )
Calabasas Veterinary Center http://www.calabasasvetcenter.com ( Vaccine clinic every Saturday 1:30-3pm )
Capri Plaza Pet Clinic, Tarzana http://www.capriplazapetclinic.com/services.html
24 Hour Emergency Clinics
Homeopathic Treatment http://www.holisticvetclinic.net/pages/rattlesnake_bite_kit
Homeopathic Kits http://www.naturalpaws.com.au/homeopathics-herbal-remedies-emergency-snake-bite-product-465.html