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Beware of rattlesnakes

Pet column
By: Dr. Thomas Morrow, D.V.M. Special to Inside Lincoln
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Warmer weather leads to an increase in outside activities, for humans, pets and especially rattlesnakes. When the temperature rises in Lincoln, so does the presence of rattlesnakes. Rattlesnakes are found in wetlands, deserts and forests, from sea level to mountain elevations. Certain areas of Lincoln are more prone to rattlesnakes than others but a pet owner must always be careful when out with their pet. About 7,000 to 8,000 humans are bitten by venomous snakes in the United States each year. The best estimate of dogs and cats bitten by venomous snakes is about 150,000. Dogs and cats are about 300 times more likely to be bitten by venomous snakes than to get rabies. Avoiding the rattlesnake is the best method of prevention. Walk along clear pathways and keep grasses low and clear of debris. Mow tall grass and weeds to make the habitat less desirable for rodents, a major food source for snakes. Keep firewood and other items in a covered box. Do not use large landscape rocks in open, sunny areas as the rocks retain heat to keep snakes warm. If you live in an area prone to snakes, a snake fence is a popular way to minimize your risk. Many online companies offer sprays or neuro-electric devices. However, there is no known effective repellant for rattlesnakes. What to do when you encounter a rattlesnake Freeze when you hear the rattlesnake and look to see where the snake is located. Make sure there is only one snake. Slowly back away from the snake until you are no longer within striking distance (half the snake’s length) and the snake stops rattling. The snake senses your presence by your body heat and movement. Do not allow your pet to attack the snake and do not attempt to handle the snake. Many times, the owners of dogs bitten are not there at the time of the bite. Check for signs your pet has been bitten, such as puncture wounds (often bleeding), immediate severe pain and swelling, dying or decaying tissue, hypotension/shock, lethargy and weakness, muscle tremors and neurological distress/depressed respiration. Animals suspected of being bitten should be seen by a veterinarian and monitored for at least eight hours. According to Red Rock Biologics, “The severity of a rattlesnake envenomation (a bite that injected venom) is related to the species of the rattlesnake involved, the amount of venom injected and the rate at which the venom is circulated in relation to the size of the dog. In unvaccinated dogs, approximately 20 to 25 percent of venomous snakebites are ‘dry’ bites, where no venom is injected.” Even if you suspect your animal has been bitten, you should have your pet assessed by a veterinarian. Prevention is key to helping pets recover. Vaccinated dogs appear to present fewer and less severe symptoms. It is reported to delay the effects and reduce the severity as well as help the animal recover more quickly with less pain and swelling. Vaccinations differ from antivenin because rattlesnake vaccine stimulates a dog to create his own antibodies that protect it from bites whereas antivenin is antibodies made from another animal (typically horse or sheep) that is injected into the animal that has been bitten. A smaller dog is always going to have a harder time fighting off the same amount of venom as a larger dog and will need all the help they can get. Any dogs over four months of age that have a risk of encountering a rattlesnake should be vaccinated. Protection from vaccine boosters lasts about six months and pets should be vaccinated accordingly. A dog should get two doses about 30 days apart in the initial sequence. Even if an animal has been bitten, they may still receive a vaccination. Animals suspected of being bitten by a rattlesnake should have veterinary attention, regardless if the bite occurred several hours earlier. It’s not too late to get your pet protected, as we have already treated pets for rattlesnake bites and have had success. Remember, pets are family, too! Critter Creek specializes in rattlesnake bites and preventative vaccines. For more information, contact us at 408-0201. Critter Creek Veterinary Hospital is located at 395 So. Hwy. 65, Lincoln.