Snakebite!


It's springtime, the sun's out, so are the snakes. It's time to get your rattlesnake vaccine.

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 that will protect him from bites that happen in the future. 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. These are antibodies made from a horse injected into a dog after he is bitten by a venomous snake. We'll discuss that shortly. But right now it's protection time; we need to push the vaccine.

The vaccine works by stimulating the pet's immune system to make protective antibodies to neutralize the venom, so dogs experience less pain and swelling after a snake bite. Dogs that are bitten may also require less antivenin, which can be somewhat costly.

Although you might be feeling as though I'm trying to sell you snake oil, actually this is the medicine to stop the effects of the snake oil. I'm saying that because a lot of vets think this 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 an incoherent 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.

One handy remedy for a snake bite is to get out 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 evidently zaps the venom molecules out of existence. All I need to do after that is treat for burn marks on two places where the hair is singed. 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 those funny looking swollen areas to normalize. These are specially constructed killing machines 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, often generate 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 rattlesnake shot!

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