Rattlesnake Bite Prevention, Treatment, & Protocol For Your Pets
Did you know that almost 300,000 domestic animals a year are bitten by venomous snakes in the US? Most of these bites come from snakes in the Crotalidao family such as rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths. In California, rattlesnakes are the only venomous snakes you’ll run into. The main type of rattlesnakes you might see are the Western Diamondback, the Mojave Green, or the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake.
What’s the point in telling you this?
We want to make sure that if you run into one of these snakes, you and your pet can safely avoid one of their venomous bites. And, if the worst happens, we want to make sure you’re prepared and know what to do! Read on to determine how to spot a rattlesnake, what a venomous bite looks like, and what to do should your pet get bitten.
How to Spot a Rattlesnake
You can easily spot a rattlesnake by their broad triangular head, narrow neck, cat-shaped eyes, folding fangs, and, at times, a rattle at the end of their tail (hence their namesake). Rattlesnakes can’t regulate their temperature so they are less active when temperatures fall below 50F. When the temperature is on the rise (A.K.A., the warm summers here in Santee), rattlesnakes can be found in the shade of a cool rock or log.
Not all bites are considered equal. In fact, just about 25% of rattlesnake bites are “dry bites,” meaning venom wasn’t actually injected. When a dry bite occurs, the bite will probably just have some mild swelling.
The location of the bite is important, as bites to the torso are more severe than bites to the head or legs. Interestingly, cats can be more resistant to rattlesnake venom than dogs of the same size. However, typically, most cats tend to be smaller in size and tend to disappear or hide when in pain, which can result in wasted time getting treatment, potentially worsening the condition.
Most rattlesnake venom is neurotoxic, meaning it causes damage to the nervous system. This can lead to paralysis of the respiratory muscles, resulting in suffocation, destroying blood cells and skin tissues, and causing internal bleeding.
Usually, the severity of the bite can be determined by a combination of the time of year, the amount of venom injected, the aggressiveness of the snake, the size of the victim, the location of the bite, the number of bites, and the amount of activity after the bite. If the bite was not a dry bite and included venom, swelling and bruising will occur within 30-60 minutes and you’ll be able to see two fang marks. In extreme cases, the tissue around the fang marks will turn black and the blood being produced will be dark and watery. There may also be some signs of shock, difficulty breathing, and pain.
The faster your pet is seen by a veterinarian, the greater the chance of survival and the less chance of complications. Restricting movement is essential in order to slow the spread of the venom. An antidote will be given in moderate and severe cases to counteract the venom. You’ll most likely be given antibiotics and pain medication. There’s a chance surgery may be required once the extent of the tissue damage is determined.
Frequently, tissue around the bite will slough after several days. The bite area should be kept clean and dead tissue should be removed as needed until it heals. Patients need to be monitored closely for anemia, kidney failure, and bleeding disorders. Make sure to follow your veterinarian's orders to ensure a proper and fast recovery!
What To Do If Your Pet Is Bitten:
Wash the bite with soap and water
Wash the bite with soap and water
Keep your pet quiet, calm, and as still as possible
Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart
Seek veterinary help immediately, even if you're uncertain if it's a rattlesnake bite
Call the emergency veterinary clinic (if after Cuyamaca hours) so they can prepare for your pet
Remove restrictive collars, choke chains, etc. before swelling begins
Remember, if your pet is bitten: Do NOT ice or cool the area, do NOT use a tourniquet, and do NOT try to suck or cut the wound
How to Prevent Rattlesnake Bites
Avoid hiking with your pet in areas with tall grass, rocks, or woodpiles during peak season.
Stay on trails and keep your dog on a leash.
If you run into a snake, make sure to keep your pet far away as rattlesnakes can strike up to half their length.
Use a walking stick to rustle bushes along the trail to alert snakes of your presence.
Rattlesnakes spend most of their time acquiring resources (like rodents or hiding places) and seeking mates. When they find good resources, they make a home and stay there. So, we recommend making sure your location is not a good home! Keep up a good extermination plan for rodents and remove hiding places such as woodpiles, old sheds, and underbrush. Below ground fencing and frequent mowing also discourage snakes.
Rattlesnakes seek cool indoor areas such as garages when the temperatures are high. Keeping areas such as sheds and garages rodent-free and clean may help prevent snakes from moving in. Wire mesh can be used to block off small holes and cracks under doorways.
We hope that you never find yourself or your pet in the path of a rattlesnake, but if you are in the East County San Diego area and need immediate care, make sure to call us so we can be there for you and your pet! If it’s after hours, we recommend calling the Pet Emergency and Specialty Center in La Mesa (at 619-349-1090).
Cuyamaca Animal Hospital prides itself on emergency response and preparedness. So, be sure to visit our site now to book your initial wellness exam. That way, we’ll have all your pet’s information (including allergies and conditions) ready to go should the worst-case scenario happen. If you have ANY questions at all, don’t hesitate to reach out to us here or by calling 619-448-0707.