Rattlesnake bite prevention for pets


It is estimated that 150,000 dogs and cats are bitten each year by venomous snakes in the United States.  Here in San Diego with our dry desert like conditions and our open spaces rattlesnakes are common. Dogs most commonly are bitten on the head or face as dogs stick their faces into bushes or sniff around. Cats, being quicker than dogs, often are bitten on the side of their body as they are jumping away or on their paws in trying to bat at the snake.  

When a snake bites a dog or cat the venom injected is a mixture of compounds that do several things to the victim, it interrupts the clotting of the blood, causes the vessels to leak fluid out into the surrounding tissue and cytotoxic effects which means the venom is toxic to the cells causing tissue destruction and death. 


Signs that are seen after a bite include hypotension or lowering of blood pressure resulting in wooziness or fainting.  Then extreme swelling starts at the site of the bite and spreads rapidly, with this swelling bruising and redness to the skin occurs.  In severe cases the skin around the bite marks will turn black and thin watery blood drips from the wounds.  Edema or fluid accumulation under the skin can start at the bite and become widespread over the body.  

After the initial signs appear your pet may then experience vomiting, depression, respiratory distress, increased heart rate, fever, clotting abnormalities, kidney damage can occur. Rattlesnake venom can cause changes and effects to the body for up to 72 hours after the initial bite. 


The most important thing if you think your dog or cat has been bit or if you come home to find your pet with swelling/bruising or lethargy is to take them to your veterinarian.   Do not apply tourniquets, try cutting the area or attempting to suck out the bite, this only can put you at risk as venom can be absorbed through the tissue in your mouth or cause more damage to your pet.

When your pet is taken to your veterinarian he or she will probably want to do baseline bloodwork and clotting times, get your animal started on intravenous fluids to counteract the hypotension.  Start on antivenin to counteract the effects of the toxins injected with the bite and start on pain control. Ideally your pet should be monitored in the hospital for several hours up to a day or more after a bite to make sure no secondary complications are arising. If there is no swelling or other signs after 1-6 hours then the bite was what is called a dry bite and no venom was injected. 


Ways to avoid a bite include having your dog on leash when out on trails or rural areas.  Even if bitten you can pull them away and avoid multiple bites to the face which often happens when dogs go back to see what struck at them.   There are rattlesnake-avoidance classes offered to teach dogs that they want to stay away from rattlesnakes, these work well for some dogs but some dogs will need refresher courses and it is not unusual for a dog to be bitten more than once in its lifetime.  Rattlesnake vaccines are available, we have these in our practice and the dogs that have received the vaccine do seem to have less swelling and respond more quickly to the antivenin, it also seems to give the owner more time to get the bite victim into the hospital before the hypotension occurs. 

Categories: KUSI