While hiking in Northern California this season, be on the lookout for rattlesnakes especially if you are with your dog.
In rattlesnake country, dogs are frequently bit, according to UC Davis Emergency Veterinarian Karl Jandrey.
“In the West and the Southwest, it is a very common presenting complaint in the vet emergency room between March and September,” Jandrey said.
Here are some ways to protect your dog from getting bit by a rattler and what to do if they are, according to local experts.
How to protect your dog
It is highly recommended to keep your dog away from animals and supervise them, especially in areas where snakes are present, Jandrey said.
“While hiking, keep pets on a leash, stay on trails and avoid areas of tall grass, rocks or woodpiles,” UC Davis recommends.
Owners can also opt to enroll their dogs in rattlesnake aversion training programs, which trains dogs to “back away instead of engaging” with rattlers.
“If it’s impossible to separate dogs from the environment in which snakes live, some people have some success with the trainings,” Jandrey said.
While the hospital does not offer any training, there are many dog trainers and facilities available online.
The preventive rattlesnake vaccine is another precautionary measure owners can take for their dogs, but it’s not recommended at UC Davis.
At the health center, veterinarians do not carry the commercial vaccine — and vaccinated dogs still need to be treated by a vet after getting bit by a rattler, Jandrey said.
“It has not been proven in dogs to reduce the severity of the envenomation,” Jandrey said. “They still need to seek veterinary care.”
Before hiking, people should also acquaint themselves with where the nearest pet emergency medical room is.
What should I do if my dog gets bitten?
If your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, go to a veterinarian as soon as possible.
“Getting medical attention quickly will provide the highest likelihood of a good outcome for your dog,” Isaac Chellman, environmental scientist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, wrote in an email.
According to veterinarian Jandrey, whose hospital sees around 25 to 30 bitten dogs every year, you should not use a tourniquet or attempt other first-aid practices like applying ice on your dog. Don’t try to suck the venom out.
“The best thing to do is to get to a veterinarian quickly,” Jandrey said. “The sooner, the better.”
Symptoms dogs experience from rattlesnake bites include swelling and bleeding as well as neurological effects including pain, restlessness or depression, according to UC Davis. These symptoms, in addition to one or two puncture marks, indicate a rattler bite.
Veterinarians usually administer an antivenom for severely bitten dogs, which is an intravenous injection that combats the toxins of the venom. It usually costs around $275 to $350.
“Most of the time, we do have success,” Jandrey said. “They might go home still swollen or a little painful from the reaction of the snake venom, but very infrequently do we have any animals die.”
Approximately 80% of dogs survive venomous snake bites given quick treatment, according to animal health nonprofit Morris Animal Foundation.
What if a vet isn’t nearby?
For those in remote areas where a vet may not be nearby, you can try these two things, according to Indianapolis emergency pet hospital IndyVet.
- Rinse the wound with water to remove the venom
- Keep the bitten area below the level of heart to reduce blood flow to the area
- If you’re driving to a vet it’s helpful to have a second person in the car to monitor your pet
This story was originally published May 20, 2022 5:00 AM.