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Rattlesnake vaccine controversy

Pet column
By: Dr. Ann Lesch-Hollis Special to Inside Lincoln
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Most pet owners are aware of the advantages of vaccinating their dogs and cats to prevent common diseases. Core vaccines for dogs include rabies, a distemper-parvovirus combination (DHPP or DAP) and kennel cough vaccines. For cats, most veterinarians recommend rabies, feline rhinotracheitis-panleukopenia-calicivirus combination (FVRCP) and feline leukemia vaccines. Any additional vaccine recommendations for pets are based on exposure and lifestyle choices. For dogs, these may include Leptospirosis, Lyme or rattlesnake vaccines. Rattlesnake vaccine is a highly controversial vaccine in the veterinary circle. Red Rocks Biologics produces the vaccine for dogs and horses. It has conducted limited efficacy studies to back up their claims, due to the cost of conducting such studies and the ethical dilemma involved with defining a number of the variables to determine efficacy. Most information regarding the success of the vaccine is anecdotal from owners of pets that have been bitten and veterinarians in the field. Components in the vaccine stimulate the production of protective antibodies against rattlesnake venom. The antibodies neutralize the venom but several factors influence the degree of success. The age of the snake (young snakes release higher doses of venom in their bites) and amount of venom that the pet receives are important factors in determining the vaccine’s effectiveness. The location of the bite, the individual dog’s immune system and the time since the last booster also affects the vaccine’s effectiveness. Red Rock’s research indicates that the vaccine delivers good protection for about six months after boostering. Initial vaccination is recommended in February for the Sacramento area, with a booster given four weeks later. Yearly boosters (one dose) are then given every March to cover the rattlesnake season in this area. Southern California has a prolonged snake season and veterinarians will usually booster exposed pets again in the fall. The vaccine is licensed to protect against Western Diamondback (Prairie, Great Basin, Northern and Southern Pacific varieties), Sidewinder, Timber Rattlesnake, Massasauga and the Copperheads. It is safe to use in pregnant and lactating dogs, puppies as young as 4-months-old and older dogs. Side effects include mild swelling at the injection site (in less than 1 percent) and will resolve in three weeks. In rare cases, there can be vomiting, diarrhea or lethargy that can last up to one to two days. Traditional vaccine reactions are extremely rare and are estimated to occur at between one and three cases per million doses of vaccine administered. Even with vaccination, a snake bite is an emergency. If your pet has been bitten, she/he should be taken to your local veterinarian for evaluation. At that point, additional treatments will be discussed based on size of pet, location of bite, and symptoms. Rattlesnake bites are deadly. Vaccinations can lessen the severity of the symptoms and have been known to decrease the recovery period. If your pet has already been bitten in the past, they can be effectively vaccinated after waiting six weeks to allow for full recovery. Have a discussion in January with your veterinarian to determine if vaccinating your pet is appropriate. Rattlesnake season will soon be upon us! Dr. Ann Lesch-Hollis owns Sterling Pointe Veterinary Clinic at 745 S. Highway 65, Suite 10. Call 859-6369 or go online to sterlingpointevetclinic.com.