What Is a Rattlesnake Vaccination?

K. Kinsella

Rattlesnakes are highly venomous reptiles that are native to North, Central, and South America. Without immediate medical treatment, a rattlesnake bite can be deadly for a human or an animal. Many veterinarians offer a rattlesnake vaccination for dogs because these animals are far more susceptible to rattlesnake venom than most other mammals. A dog is 25 more times more likely to die from a rattlesnake bite than a human is, so many pet owners view a rattlesnake vaccination as an essential part of their pet's health care regimen.

A Northern Pacific rattlesnake.
A Northern Pacific rattlesnake.

Generally, rattlesnakes tend to hide under logs or rocks in deserts and forests, which means that freely wandering pets often encounter these snakes. When a rattlesnake bites another animal, its fangs inject hemotoxic venom into the other animal’s bloodstream. The venom causes tissue damage, swelling, hemorrhaging, and death if left untreated. Scientists estimate that each year approximately 150,000 dogs and cats are bitten by various kinds of venomous snakes. A rattlesnake vaccination does not reduce the likelihood of a dog being bitten, but it does greatly reduce the chances of the bite proving fatal.

A dog that has been bitten by a rattle snake should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.
A dog that has been bitten by a rattle snake should be taken to a veterinarian immediately.

When a dog receives a rattlesnake vaccination for the first time, two doses of the vaccine are given to the dog with an interval of about 30 days between the injections. The vaccine is most effective about 30 days after the second of these two injections, and the vaccine works for about six months. Thereafter, dogs need to get booster shots about 30 days before the peak rattlesnake season. In areas where rattlesnakes are active all year long, most veterinarians recommend that pet owners should get booster shots for their dogs approximately twice a year.

The rattlesnake vaccination does not eliminate all of the side effects of a rattlesnake bite but it does greatly reduce the swelling, and dogs that have been vaccinated recover from the bite much more quickly than dogs that have not been vaccinated. The vaccine often proves to be so effective that the rattlesnake bite goes unnoticed but, when possible, veterinarians recommend that pet owners should still seek medical advice if their dog is bitten. Both small and large dogs can benefit from the vaccine, but scientists have yet to develop a version of the vaccine for other domesticated animals, such as cats.

Approximately 1 percent of dogs suffer side effects as the result of the vaccine. These side effects typically include swelling around the injection area and flu like symptoms. The instances of side effects are low when compared to other kinds of vaccines.

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