• James E Aarons DVM


It's springtime, the sun's out, so are the snakes. It's time to get a $25.00 rattlesnake vaccine. The vaccine could save you a couple thousand dollars if a snake bites your pet!

Around here, that's the Paso Robles area, there are plenty of rattlers, and again the first word of advice is avoidance. Keeping dogs leashed and enrolling them in rattlesnake avoidance classes are still the best ways to protect them from being bitten.

What is this rattlesnake shot all about?

The vaccine stimulates a dog to create his own antibodies to rattlesnake venom to help protect him from future bites. The vaccine causes the dog to make its own antibodies against the protein structure of the rattler's venom. These antibodies remain on standby ready to neutralize the deadly venom if your dog is bitten by a rattler. However, the new antibodies take ten days after injection to be produced in your pet's body, so giving a vaccination after your dog is bitten is not helpful because the venom can kill the pet in less than six hours.

Antivenin, the other snake shot is different, we need that after the pet is bitten. We'll discuss that shortly. But right now it's protection time; we need to push the vaccine.

Some vets feel the vaccine is smokey science, so they won't carry the vaccine. I see it a little different.

One reason why it's so hard quantifying the effect of snake bites on either a vaccinated or an unvaccinated dog is that no one can decide after seeing a snake bite if the reptile really left anything inside your pet.

All you see on the outside are two red marks that begin to swell, and things become a nightmare until the vet tells you he's got it under control.

It's those unverified reports of self-treatment successes that make me cringe. What if a fellow had no way to get Fluffy to the vet, or already spent the vet money on beer and cigarettes, but wanted to give the dog a chance? I've heard of this occurring in those circles whose members have little money or need of vets, they've got a list of alternative treatments for various scenarios.

Another idiotic home remedy for a snake bite is to get the jumper cables from the back of the truck. Then, hooking up the negative and positive clamps to the battery, do the same for Fluffy, that jolt supposedly zaps the venom molecules out of existence. It's hard explaining to the fellow it was likely Fluffy never got much venom from the bite, but that's never the way the man paying the bill tells the story.

I'm almost to antivenin. Any questions about vaccines, any home remedies you need to share?

Antivenin is the magic antidote that when injected inside a dog can attach to and destroy the snake's venomous molecules allowing swollen areas to normalize. These are specially constructed killing proteins made from horse serum that look for and neutralize the harmful venom.

How can such a neutralizer be manufactured? From horse antibodies. Horses' immune systems are put into high gear when venom collected from rattlers is injected into them. The dose is high, but not enough to kill the animals, just sufficient to cause them to stagger a bit, generating a healthy fever, which suggests a good strong immune response. This is the time the horse's bone marrow is churning out the antibodies having patterns specific for the rattler's venom.

These antibodies save the horse for yet another insult later on, and the body still pumps them out, so enterprising individuals have found a way to collect these antibodies from horses allowing us a method to neutralize the venom that is killing Fluffy in an immediate fashion.

Hopefully Fluffy had a rattlesnake vaccine so she may already have some of her own killing machines on board.

I'm old fashioned, but I'd wear gloves here, just in case there was a little nick somewhere on my finger I don't even want a drop of that stuff near me.

Bring Fluffy in for her $25.00 rattlesnake shot! The vaccine builds up Fluffy's immune levels so we may not need to use the $700 horse serum in the event of a bite.

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