Spring can deliver rattlesnakes. It’s the season for breeding the venomous creature, which means they are highly active with voracious eating, mating and defending habits.
The rattlesnake’s drive to reproduce and feed can cause aggressive behavior.
Rattlesnake bites occur frequently during this time of year and well into the summer. In the warmer parts of California, bites can occur year-round.
There are eight species of rattlesnakes in California, with multiple subspecies. All of these snakes are venomous, but the strength and quality of venom varies from species to species, geographical location and other factors.
Like all snakes, rattlesnakes are cold-blooded animals. This means that the environmental temperature determines the snake’s own body temperature. Snakes need heat to function. However, during the heat of the day in the summer months, most rattlers take shelter from the sun, becoming more active at dusk and nighttime. Some rattlers can function in surprisingly cool temperatures in spite of their need for heat.
So, what does this mean for your dog and cat? Dogs and cats are naturally curious animals. They will readily investigate movement and sound, which is why most rattlesnake bites occur on the face or front legs of animals. Facial bites carry the potential danger of the airway swelling and causing the inability to breathe.
Rattlesnake bite wounds vary from dry (no venom injected), to full envenomation. The venom contains proteins that disrupt a pet’s blood clotting abilities. Symptoms can range from local swelling to severe facial and limb swelling, large amounts of blood loss, infection and in severe cases, death.
Immediate veterinary attention is required with all bites, no matter how negligible they seem. The sooner treatment is started, the more effective it will be. Snakes carry a large amount of bacteria in their mouths. Even dry bites can become infected and are painful. The location of the bite, size of the pet, differences in venom, and how much venom is injected all determine the severity of symptoms.
Treatment for rattlesnake bites consists of intravenous fluids to prevent circulatory collapse, antibiotics, pain medication and antivenin. Antivenin contains antibodies to multiple rattlesnake venoms. This helps the pet fight the effects of the venom. Antivenin is very expensive, often costing more than $700 per vial, but frequently decreases severity of symptoms and length of hospital stay.
The Mojave Green rattler in the high desert region of California has its own particular venom that has a neurotoxin. This deadly venom paralyzes the body of the victim, including the heart and lungs. Special antivenin is required and is only available through human hospitals.
So, what can you do to protect your pet? The best way to do this is to avoid encounters between the pet and the snake. Safe practices include:
• Stick to cleared areas or open paths when hiking.
• Keep your dog on a leash at all times.
• Don’t let your dog explore holes, logs, or dig under rocks.
• Hike during the day instead of early morning or evening.
• Cats are safer left indoors at all times. If you let your cat outside, only do so during the day.
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