April 9, 2014

Don’t vacillate, vaccinate pets against venom in rattler areas

Another drought year means more active rattlers, so pet owners who live in or visit rattlesnake country should get their animals vaccinated.

A sign outside Oakdale Veterinary Group reminds pet owners to get their animals vaccinated against rattlesnake bites.

Jill Cadmus, one of the group’s veterinarians, said that on average, the small-animal hospital treats about 20 snakebite cases each year, with the number fluctuating depending on the weather. This year being another drought year, experts expect the snakes to be more active as they try to find water.

Modesto’s Veterinary Emergency Clinic Inc. could see even more snakebite animal patients because it is open nights and on weekends, when hikers take their pets along on trips to Knights Ferry and other areas where snakes tend to thrive. Cold-blooded, snakes tend to be more active in the early morning and in the evenings, which is when many of the animals are bitten.

“The problem with a snakebite is twofold,” Cadmus said. “First, the venom can be fatal. And the second part is the bacteria in the snakebite. The fangs are coated with all kinds of nasty stuff.”

The vaccine can give bite victims a better chance at survival and easier recovery, she said. Even so, there can be complications. Vaccinated animals will need care because the bacteria can create abscesses that need antibiotics to heal.

The cost of a vaccine is $44, plus a $49 examination fee for a new patient at the clinic, Cadmus said. The initial vaccination is followed by a booster shot, also $44, followed by an annual booster each spring.

Treating an unvaccinated pet can exceed $1,000 initially, she said, followed by prolonged wound management care costs as the animal recovers.

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