The Rattlesnake Vaccination: What You Need to Know

By Mia Svenson, Girls Who Hike Los Angeles Ambassador

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You may have heard about the Rattlesnake Vaccination, and it’s likely that you’ve heard that it at the very least, will buy you some extra time to get your dog to the vet. 

I am personally a dog owner, and when I moved to California from Vancouver Island, Canada, the first thing I asked my new vet about was the Rattlesnake Vaccine. I was shocked to hear that this vet, and all the others in the area, didn’t even stock the Rattlesnake Vaccine. My vet told me that it was expensive and ineffective, basically, she said, it’s a rip-off. 

I wanted to find out why, and ended up finding multiple studies produced by Veterinary Teaching Hospitals and Veterinary Medical Journals.

Here’s what you should know about the Rattlesnake Vaccine: 

The Canine Rattlesnake Vaccine is made from the venom of the Western Diamondback. It was created to specifically target and protect against venom produced by the Western Diamondback Rattlesnake. It doesn’t even claim to provide any protection against venom released during the bite of a Coral Snake, Water Moccasin or Mojave Rattlesnake. Snake venom varies by species of snake, and many species of snake are not covered by the “vaccine”, as it utilizes components of venoms found in one specific breed of snake. It’s not a generalized medicine.

It became commercially available in the early 2000s, and was widely marketed as a way to save your dog from rattlesnake bites. Unfortunately, by definition a vaccination is a treatment that produces immunity against a disease. Rattlesnake venom is not a disease. It is a venom, or poison. Venoms and poisons cannot be vaccinated against. In fact, antivenin and other types of veterinary care are still necessary in “vaccinated” dogs. According to multiple studies conducted by UC Davis, “in vaccinated dogs there is no significant difference in the course of therapy if the animal is bitten”. Even quoting the company who makes the vaccine’s information; “safety and efficacy are not proven”. In other words, there’s no scientific evidence that it works. 

Additionally, it needs to be boosted every 4-6 months to maintain any actual or perceived function. The vaccine itself costs $20-$40 per injection, and that injection often comes with a veterinarian visit fee, which can range anywhere from $50-$100 per visit. 

According to UC Davis, “due to the vaccine’s questionable efficacy, cost and lack of substantial difference in acute therapy if an animal is bitten, the vaccine is currently not stocked and is not advocated for animals routinely seen… Owners must weigh the benefits versus the risks and be aware that the vaccine does not insure protection against the venom”. 

It’s important to be aware that the rattlesnake vaccine only claims to alleviate some pain immediately following a rattlesnake bite. It doesn’t claim to “buy you more time”, nor is it a lifesaving tool. There is no scientific evidence that it may buy you some time to get him or her to the vet. The assumption that the vaccine will give you any extra time is dangerous, and could cost a dog’s life. At best the Rattlesnake Vaccine is an expensive waste of money. At worst, it’s a false sense of security and creates a lack of urgency that could mean the difference between life and death for a dog.

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So what can you do about rattlesnakes?

You can train your dog. You can be aware and always on the lookout for rattlesnakes. You can take your dog to rattlesnake training. You can teach your dog the command “leave it” or “back off”. You can be careful. 

“Leave it!” – This command literally saved my dogs life. Your dog needs to know when to immediately back off and leave something alone. It can be something like poison oak or poison ivy, but in my dogs’ case, it was a rattlesnake. My dog, Wes, was walking behind me on a downhill segment of a hike when I heard the unmistakable noise of a rattlesnake. I had been looking down at my feet and not paying attention to the sides of the trail, so I’d walked right by a rattlesnake coiled up, tucked beneath a log without even noticing it. Wes, on the other hand, was very interested in this potential new friend! I turned around just in time to see Wes standing less than one foot away from the snake, who was already reared back into striking position. You know when you’re having a nightmare and there’s something chasing you and you feel like you’re running in slow motion? That’s how I felt. I was moving too slowly and frozen at the same time. I shouted “LEAVE IT!” and thankfully, Wes immediately stepped back from the snake and out of striking distance. Since the rattlesnake vaccine is ineffective at best, and rattlesnake training can be expensive or difficult to find depending on your area, I highly recommend this command to anyone who lives in an area with poisonous snakes.

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Mia is the Ambassador for our Los Angeles chapter. You can join her local meetups and discussions through the Los Angeles chapter by clicking here. To become a member of Girls who Hike, click here.

Sharron McBrideComment