Monday, August 23, 2010

Help from the audience, please


Rattlesnake vaccine: should I get it for Zelda? Up until 2 weeks ago, I lived in an area with no poisonous snakes (except ringnecks which really don't count). I'm out of my element. I'm leaning toward getting her vaccinated because my brain sez "VACCINES R TEH AWESOME!!". However, it may be too good to be true, and/or I may be blowing the risk out of proportion because I'm not used to it.

Here's what I know: Early results are promising, but currently there is insufficient data on the vaccine's efficacy and potency. Most sources recommend getting a booster at least yearly, some say every 6 months. Even if it works exactly as advertised, all it does is lessen the effects of the venom and give you more time to get to a vet.

Three out of four of my local vet hospitals stock it (and go to the trouble to advertise this on their websites).

Dogs are much more likely to be bitten than humans (for which most rattlesnakes are actually a fairly low risk - if there were a human rattlesnake vaccine, I wouldn't bother to get it for myself)

I'm waiting for a call back from county extension for more info about local rattlesnake information.

There's no way I'm mitigating this risk by keeping her on leash all the time when we go hiking. She loves exploring off leash; what's the point of protecting her life if she doesn't get to actually LIVE it? She isn't terribly interested in other animals. She doesn't chase, go off the path much, or dig, but she might approach a snake out of mild curiosity. She's under fairly good voice control. If I told her to leave it, she would. If I saw the situation in time, that is.

So. Anyone reading (especially those who live in pit viper territory): Thoughts? Recommendations? Admonitions? Anecdotes?


Luisa said...

This might help: Hello Rattlesnake.

CyborgSuzy said...

Thanks for the link, Luisa. :)

Retrieverman said...

If you're comfortable with using an e-collar, you can snake-proof Zelda.

CyborgSuzy said...

That is a possibility. I'm sure there's a trainer around here who does that sort of thing. That wouldn't stop bites from snakes she didn't see, however.

Jess said...

Aggh. You know we live in snake territory and the dogs DO NOT GO OUTSIDE THE FENCE during the summer. Too hot during the day, too many snakes during the morning/evening.

I do not use the rattlesnake vaccine for one big reason, and several small ones (mostly expense and the long snake season we have), but mainly: it has not been tested at all. There is no data beyond anecdotes that it mitigates symptoms or increases survival rates, at least when I checked there wasn't. All bites will vary in the amount of venom injected, and the dog will vary in it's response. You also get different results from different snakes. Our locals are diamondbacks, and a medium dog that gets nailed will pretty much always survive with vet care, even without antivenin (Crofab is very expensive. It is telling that none of the vets I checked here carry antivenin.) Stories about how 'my dog got the vaccine and was bit and survived' mean nothing to me. You don't know how much venom was injected, and from what I've read about vaccinated dogs that have been bitten, the symptoms are not, IMO, mitigated by the vaccine. I have my own anecdotes, eight of them, and while the vaccine MAY confer an advantage, it is neither definite enough for me to use it, and certainly NOT cost effective in my situation. We have a specific treatment protocol that has worked for us, so well that only ONE dog has had to even be put on an IV, and that because she was nailed in the face and was in too much pain to drink. She stayed on an IV for two days.

That said, if I lived in Mojave green country, or another place where the subspecies had especially nasty venom, and I wanted to take my dog out hiking, you betcha I'd get the vaccine. If I had a little dog ANYWHERE that I wanted to take out hiking, I'd get the vaccine. (The two dogs we lost to snakebite were little dogs, that got SLAMMED by a very agitated snake (lots of venom), and they went downhill very, very fast.)

If you live in snake territory it is well worth it to put fencing like hardware cloth with small holes around the bottom of your fence, down to or into the ground.

The people I an acquainted with who do OFC in New Mexico use rattlesnake aversion training, FWIW.

Retrieverman said...

We have a rattlesnake, but it's very rare (in relative terms).

I generally don't have to worry about snakes.

I worry about coyotes more.

We also have the copperhead, but the only dogs I've known to be bitten by them have been those who have decided to pick fights with them.

I've never known a dog around here to be bitten by a rattlesnake.

But in your area that my be different.

My experience around vipers is they are actually less willing to coil up and strike than black rat snakes are.

I have no experience with coral snakes.

I've seen only one in my life.

CyborgSuzy said...

Jess, that's pretty much what I was afraid of. On the one hand, I only have one dog, so if I waste money on a useless vaccine it's not such a dent on my bank account.

On the other, I hate drugs/treatments/vaccines that go on the market without efficacy testing. I don't want to support that sort of thing.

Jess said...

Yeah, I have to admit that it really ticked me off when I started researching the vaccine. I was REALLY DISPLEASED there was no testing at all.

I think for a small dog or a single dog owner the vaccine may have value as a hedge your bet kind of thing. That and carrying antihistamines with you on your hikes.