Rattlesnakes in the Bay Area: What to do for Snake Bites
Bay Area First-aid Certification Classes
Few things are more enjoyable than hiking, hunting, or camping in the Bay Area, but a rattlesnake bite can turn a pleasant day into a health emergency for a pet or a child. Dogs can die or suffer permanent nerve and tissue damage from rattlesnake venom. Any venomous snake bite should be treated as a medical emergency that requires immediate veterinary care.
Most rattlesnake bites to dogs occur on the face or legs. Pet owners might suspect a snake bite if the area begins swelling and the dog starts vomiting. Other common symptoms include an increased heart rate and unsteady gait. Some pets develop seizures after a snake bite, with small dogs more prone to the toxic effects of snake venom. Without prompt treatment, an animal could suffer permanent paralysis if toxins affect the nervous system. Cell death might cause permanent damage to a limb.
The fear of snakebite doesn’t mean a pet owner must leave Fido at home. Simple precautions can be taken to lessen the chance of an encounter with venomous creatures when enjoying outdoor activities. Keeping a dog on a leash keeps it from exploring rocky areas where snakes take cover during the hottest part of the day. Rattlesnakes become more active during early morning and early evening hours when they venture out to seek food. Wearing heavy boots creates a vibration that alerts snakes of human presence, causing them to retreat.
Vaccines are available that offer some immunity from poisonous toxins in snake venom. Once vaccinated, a dog develops antibodies that neutralize these chemicals. The vaccine was specifically formulated to protect against venom injected by the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake, but is also effective against the Timber Rattlesnake, Eastern Diamondback, and American Copperhead. Vaccines don’t work on venom injected by the Cottonmouth Rattlesnake and Eastern Coral Snake.
Bay Area veterinarians usually recommend anti-venom vaccinations about a month before rattlesnake season begins in the spring. An initial shot is followed by a booster injection a month later. Effects of the vaccine typically last about six months, with yearly booster shots advised. Pet owners who spend a lot of time in areas infested with rattlesnakes might opt for two doses of vaccine each year, especially if they own large dogs. The vaccine offers partial protection by reducing swelling and pain, but dogs still need medical care to fully recover.
Rattlesnake avoidance classes in the Bay Area offer another option to protect dogs from snake bites. These 15-minute courses employ dog handlers and snake experts who introduce dogs to the smell, sight, and sound of rattlesnakes. Dogs are fitted with an electronic collar that imparts a mild shock that imprints danger into memory when they react to the presence of live snakes used in the training. Properly trained pets can often alert their owners of nearby rattlesnakes. The woods in San Jose and Santa Clara have numerous rattlesnakes so be careful when walking around this area. The San Jose American Heart Association teaches first-aid classes about how to handle snake bites.
Enjoying the outdoors with dogs, even in rattlesnake country, can be accomplished by recognizing the danger and taking steps to avoid snakebites or lessen their impact. Leashing pets, getting them vaccinated, or enrolling in avoidance classes could head off a costly emergency trip to the vet.
The same steps apply to humans when they are bit by a snake. Seek medical attention as soon as possible, keep the bitten area below the level of the heart, splint the affected area, and do not try to suck the venom out. The American Heart Association in the Bay Area provides First-aid certification classes where you learn what to do for snake bites.