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Desert Dog Dangers: Rattlesnakes……



Dogs and Rattlesnakes


One of our dangers of living in the desert is we share it with rattlesnakes.  Dogs are occasionally  bitten and our brought to our offices.  Fortunately snake bites are seldom fatal to dogs but can make them very ill and cause serious wounds.   We see an increase in dogs bitten by snakes in the spring when it begins to warm up.  The snakes come out of hibernation, they  are hungry and often aggressive.   We  are lucky to some degree that the t poisonous  snakes of our desert are not as aggressive as other types of rattlers.


In the Antelope Valley we see the very poisonous Mojave Green Rattler, Crotalus scutulatus , Western Diamondback, Southern Pacific Rattlesnake and other species of rattlers.  The Mojave Green seems to be the one we fear most, the venom of this snake is very poisonous and unique in that it is comprised of two type of toxins.  One type, a neurotoxin does as the name suggests, it poisons the nervous system.  The other is a hemotoxin which attacks the tissue; muscle skin and blood.   It has been speculated that individual snakes have different concentrations or even have the ability to utilize one or both types of venom.  I do not have a source to confirm this but have heard it mentioned more than once by herpetologists.


In my 23 yrs as a Veterinarian in the Antelope Valley I have seen countless dogs and even a few cats after they have been bitten by a rattler.  It is interesting that few cases have proven fatal.   More commonly a snake gives a defensive bite, or  a “dry bite”.  In these cases the snake deposits little or no venom.  It is believed the snake knows it is not hunting for food and chooses not to deposit venom into an animal that it will not eat.  There is often some venom in the snakes mouth or perhaps just the snake saliva that produces severe swelling and pain to the dog at the site of the bite.  As already mentioned these are seldom fatal bites.  My experience with most of the fatal bites the dogs attacked and killed the snakes.  In these situations the snake deposits all its venom after several bites while fighting for its own life.  Two particular cases I remember one dog died almost immediately and the other within a couple of hours.  Most commonly dogs come to the office with a swollen face or leg.


Treatment of a dog after it has been bitten is often just supportive care.  Intraveneous fluids, antihistamines and antibiotics are all very important in the treatment after a snake bite.  Anti-venom is also part of the treatment for a dog after a bite.  There is some debate as to how important it really is and how much does it really help.  In my experience it is useful and beneficial.  I would stop short of saying it would make the difference between life or death but I have seen the benefits of using anti-venom for treating a dog after it has been bitten.


There is little a dog owner can do in the field if their dog has been bitten.  Taking the dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible is the best thing.  A positive identification of the snake is helpful but I would discourage anyone from trying to kill the snake and taking a chance of getting bit themselves.


Although avoiding snakes is the best preventative sometimes  it just can’t be helped when we live in their neighborhood. Snake avoidance training is extremely effective in teaching dogs to just stay away.   There are several trainers who offer this type of training.  I highlighted two I found with short google search.


There is also a rattlesnake vaccination available that will help your dog if it has been bitten.  It is an initial series of two vaccines then an annual booster.  It helps the dogs immune system fight the effects of the venom if they are bitten.  We offer this vaccine at our offices.


Quartz Hill Veterinary 661.943-7896


Southern Kern Veterinary 661.256-8121



January 27, 2011 Posted by | Lancaster Veterinary, Palmdale Veterinary, Quartz Hill Veterinary, rattlesnake bites, Rosamond Veterinary | , , , , | Leave a comment