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Rattlesnake Vaccine

April 5th, 2007 Chris

Dog - Rattlesnake bite

Photo: USFWS 

Rattlesnake season is here!

There is a new canine rattlesnake vaccine out from a company called Red Rocks Biologics, and there is a fair amount of interest and discussion among hunting dog owners.  The vaccine has been out for a couple of years now, and has some practical testing by vets and dogs afield. Based on the manufactures website, the vaccine helps stimulate the dogs system to manufacture venom antibodies which will neutralize rattlesnake poison if bitten. The first year the dog is vaccinated, they should get two injections spaced one month apart, then should receive annual booster shots about a month before the likelihood of snake encounter.

There are two main questions a dog owner should ask about this vaccine; is it safe for my dog, and do they really need it.

Red Rocks Biologics reports that this vaccine is approved by the USDA and is as safe as other animal vaccines. They report that it is safe for use in pregnant and lactating dogs, puppies and healthy adult dogs. They report few minor side effects and few serious cases resulting from inoculations. On the other hand, researching the web, I did come across several dog owners that reported problems their dog experienced (from minor to fatal) in reaction to the vaccine.

I think the first question you should ask is whether or not your dog really needs the vaccination. Often times, we are so scared of snakes (ophidiophobia) that we can’t make a balanced judgment. Hollywood has made millions on this fear. The thing to ask is, realistically, how often do you actually encounter rattlesnakes. For many people, especially here in Utah, I venture to say that it is seldom to never. For others, particularly in the Mojave Desert country of southwestern Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, the answer is very different. Rattlesnakes are a very real threat. 

One of the main problems for gun dogs is that they are often in hunting mode with their nose to the ground and are curious about snakes. I wonder how much a snake smells like a bird (phylogenetically speaking, there are some connections). My pointer commonly points box turtles in the Nebraska Sand Hills while hunting prairie chickens. (I have heard that this is common for bird dogs to point turtles and other reptiles.) With this curiosity and prey drive, they are very likely to get bitten from a snake if they encounter one. A second problem is that dogs are often bitten in the face and they are small enough that the venom from a snake can be very serious.

I have talked to two different vets in southwest rattlesnake country that strongly recommend to their clients the preventive use of rattlesnake vaccine. They have used the vaccine on tens, if not hundreds of dogs over the past two years with very little problems, and report several positive results after snake envenomations. Closer to home, a good friend of mine has inoculated his dog two years in a row now and not had any complications. He certainly feels more at ease hunting chukars and desert quail in rattlesnake country. One comment on this issue I found particularly useful is on doggienews.com. For the full article see the following link (http://www.doggienews.com/2005/02/rattlesnake-venom-vaccinations.htm).

Something else to consider is snake avoidance training. Look for these clinics in particularly snake prone regions. Using training collars and actual rattlesnakes, you can train your dog to avoid snakes altogether. Snake avoidance training is offered here at Cove Mountain Kennels, however, due to the complication of handling rattlesnakes, I like to hold a clinic just once a year and get as many dogs as possible trained. This training is very effective against having your dog seek out snakes; however, there is always the threat of a surprise encounter and therefore, maybe reason for the vaccine.

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  1. Chris Mietchen
    April 6th, 2007 at 01:24 | #1

    I have watched the debate on this vaccine for over a year on different forums. Bothsides make a good argument on why or why not it will work to fight the venom of the most common rattlesnake in Utah. My feeling is that its cheap prevenative maintenace. As far as I know it has not been proven not to work on the snakes in our state. Dr Kelsey explained to me what a dog goes through and the possiable cost of a snake bite. If the shot cuts the vet cost by even a quarter, that would save around a thousand dollars! I think he said the vaccine was fifty dollars. Thats cheap security/peace of mind in my book. When do you plan on doing a avoidance class? How many dogs can/will you do per class?

  2. May 2nd, 2007 at 17:08 | #2

    Yesterday I had three dogs bitten by the same rattlesnake all were vaccinated the youngest one had just had her second booster in her series of shots, she needed antivenin (2 vials) and the other two who had been vaccinated last year and again this year did not . The vet and the emergency did not feel as though the vaccine eliminated the two dogs from needing antivenin just give the owner more time to get the dog to the vet safely. Not sure if I agree.

  3. May 2nd, 2007 at 21:25 | #3

    Thanks for your comments. I just talked to a good friend in Cedar City, UT who vaccinated his dog. About an hour after receiving the first shot the dog whet into a kind of mild seizure. The vet said it was rare, but does sometimes happen. The owner said it was scary enough that he didn’t go back for the next round of shots.
    Chris

  4. May 2nd, 2007 at 21:25 | #4

    Thanks for your comments. I just talked to a good friend in Cedar City, UT who vaccinated his dog. About an hour after receiving the first shot the dog whet into a kind of mild seizure. The vet said it was rare, but does sometimes happen. The owner said it was scary enough that he didn’t go back for the next round of shots.
    Chris

  5. Shellie
    May 25th, 2007 at 08:25 | #5

    I was wondering… I have 2 small pom’s they are 4 and 6 years old and 10 and 12 pounds. We live in west Texas and are looking at a house in the country. I asked our vet about it for the boys and the pup shepherd mix we just got. He said it would be a good idea but did not tell me side effects. My little guys get sick for 3 days after their rabies booster. My oldest pom has seizures about 6 times a year that poms are pre disposed of. Will it make his worse? How many dogs have died from the shot? Jake is not scared of snakes he and my ball python were best buds. What do I do?

  6. May 31st, 2007 at 22:52 | #6

    I was wondering… I have 2 small pom’s they are 4 and 6 years old and 10 and 12 pounds. We live in west Texas and are looking at a house in the country. I asked our vet about it for the boys and the pup shepherd mix we just got. He said it would be a good idea but did not tell me side effects. My little guys get sick for 3 days after their rabies booster. My oldest pom has seizures about 6 times a year that poms are pre disposed of. Will it make his worse? How many dogs have died from the shot? Jake is not scared of snakes he and my ball python were best buds. What do I do?

  7. May 31st, 2007 at 22:52 | #7

    I was wondering… I have 2 small pom’s they are 4 and 6 years old and 10 and 12 pounds. We live in west Texas and are looking at a house in the country. I asked our vet about it for the boys and the pup shepherd mix we just got. He said it would be a good idea but did not tell me side effects. My little guys get sick for 3 days after their rabies booster. My oldest pom has seizures about 6 times a year that poms are pre disposed of. Will it make his worse? How many dogs have died from the shot? Jake is not scared of snakes he and my ball python were best buds. What do I do?

  8. May 31st, 2007 at 23:03 | #8

    Shellie,
    Thanks for your comment/email. I’m am interested to know what you and your vet decide for your dogs as far as the snake vaccine goes.
    My thought are that you have to carefully weigh the likelihood of a snake bite against the possible side effects of the vaccine. In my reading and correspondence with dog owners around the west there have been numerous cases of serious reaction to the antivenin. You have to ask yourself honestly, how often do you and the dog really run into snakes (really)? I say this because a lot of times our fears are much worse or exaggerated than reality. That said, in many areas of Texas and Arizona rattlesnakes are a serious concern because of the numbers of them that are attracted to higher rodent populations along the urban edges. I have heard from a few people that have gotten their dogs the injections and later had a dog bitten and their dog came out of the situation very well. They of course felt that it was very worth the cost and the risk.

    Chris Colt

  9. May 31st, 2007 at 23:03 | #9

    Shellie,
    Thanks for your comment/email. I’m am interested to know what you and your vet decide for your dogs as far as the snake vaccine goes.
    My thought are that you have to carefully weigh the likelihood of a snake bite against the possible side effects of the vaccine. In my reading and correspondence with dog owners around the west there have been numerous cases of serious reaction to the antivenin. You have to ask yourself honestly, how often do you and the dog really run into snakes (really)? I say this because a lot of times our fears are much worse or exaggerated than reality. That said, in many areas of Texas and Arizona rattlesnakes are a serious concern because of the numbers of them that are attracted to higher rodent populations along the urban edges. I have heard from a few people that have gotten their dogs the injections and later had a dog bitten and their dog came out of the situation very well. They of course felt that it was very worth the cost and the risk.

    Chris Colt

  10. May 31st, 2007 at 23:08 | #10

    Hi Chris,
    Thanks for asking, everyone is doing great even the mom who was about 4 weeks pregnant at the time of the bite all the puppies showed nice healthy heart beats during an ultrasound a week later, she is due June 7-9th. No sluffing of anyone’s skin or anything absolutely no lasting marks or trauma caught all of them chasing a lizard the other day so no one learned a thing from this very expensive experience. I still think the vaccine was a life saver in this incident and will continue to vaccinate all my dogs every year for this buggers.

  11. lynette polewka
    April 13th, 2008 at 22:41 | #11

    I live in a rural part of Arizona and all the vets and vet techs here get their dogs vaccinated against rattlesnake bites. I have done this with my ten dogs for three years. Although one neighbor with a very tiny Yorkie reported swelling from the shot, my dogs have never had a bad reaction. I am sure the vaccine saved me hundreds of dollars, and my dog a lot of suffering, when a rattlesnake (we found it later by the chicken coop) bit our dog on the foot. The foot was swollen so we took Spike to the vet’s for the day, and although bites on the foot can be nasty because there is not much skin to stretch, the vet was impressed that the swelling never got worse. Spike was released that afternoon and was walking on that paw by evening. I recommend the vaccine to all my dog-owning local friends!

  12. April 15th, 2008 at 06:58 | #12

    http://www.dogsadversereactions.com/vaccinesurvivors9.html
    Here is a story of our dog and the rattlesnake vaccine:
    She will never be shown again .

    We live on a farm in rural SW Nebraska. We walked out the backdoor one morning to find a rattlesnake. It struck and missed my husband and he did away with it. We were on our way to the vet because our other Newfoundland had a UTI. While waiting at the vet we saw a poster on the rattlesnake vaccine made by Red Rocks. I asked the vet what the side effects are. He said the company is saying a slight swelling at the injection site and that is what they were finding in their practice. In light of the snake that morning we decided to have it given to Blossom. That was Friday June 17. Our other Newf did not get it due to her UTI.

    Saturday afternoon Blossom was panting more than normal and acted a little tired.

    Sunday morning she was panting heavily and more lethargic.

    Monday morning she was taken back to the vet . He did a blood test and her PCV was 22. He said she had Auto Immune Hemolytic Anemia (AIHA) and felt it caused by the rattlesnake vaccine. The vet called the company to report the reaction only to be told “we have never had a report of AIHA so it must have been caused by something else.” Our vet still felt it was caused by the vaccine and urged my husband to take her to Colorado to a specialist. I was out of town and we did not know how serious this was. My husband wanted to try treating her in Nebraska. She was put on 80mg Prednisone. Her blood was tested the next day and she was down to 19.

    Wednesday we left for Ft. Collins Colorado. When she was tested at VCA her PCV was 12. Her gums were very pale and she was so weak she could hardly stand. She spent four days in ICU undergoing a transfusion, blood thinners (AIHA causes the blood to clump causing strokes), and a chemo drug to lower her white blood count that was out of site. We were then told the rattlesnake vaccine caused the white blood cells to attack her red blood cells killing them and making her anemic.

    This was the beginning of our education on AIHA.

    The specialist also called Red Rocks and talked to their company vet. He was also informed they had never had a problem with AIHA concerning the vaccine so it must have been caused by something else.

    Both our vets replied “there is always a first time”.

    We brought a very weak Blossom home with her PCV at 19. She was a zombie. She continued on the 100mg Imuran and the 80 mg of prednisone with weekly blood tests. Her blood count had many ups and downs but did finally reach 33. Her liver enzymes were rising rapidly and with each test were much higher. The specialist in Colorado felt this due to the Imuran and pulled her off. She continued on the prednisone, still a zombie and now losing muscle rapidly. Her head became one third the size. Her belly was enlarged and drooping due to no muscle tone. The liver enzymes continued to escalate.

    We repeatedly questioned both vets on the use of prednisone. Both wanted her to stay on it. We felt it was killing her. Her PCV had dropped back to 19 in spite of the Prednisone. We changed vets. We were adamant that she needs to come off and the new vet agreed. It was a gamble but we knew she would die if she stayed on it. He put her back on 100mg Imuran and cut her prednisone in half. Her PCV started rising. She was slowly weaned off the Prednisone. Her PCV was 36 on the last test and she is no longer a zombie. Her liver enzymes are normal. She is now down to 50 mg Imuran every other day and IF things hold she will be off in two weeks. It is now September 30th. and we are out $4500.00 in vet bills and still counting.

    Blossom is moderately dysplastic but due to her muscle tone she moved perfectly before all this happened. Now she is showing her dysplasia. We are hoping as she recovers she will again regain the muscles in her hindquarters.

    I wrote the Red Rocks company detailing what happened to Blossom after their vaccine. I received an e-mail back from their research vet telling me their vaccine could not possibly have caused this. She said the company had never received any calls from our vets. My husband or I stood right next to our vets while they called and talked to the company vet. The email went on to say it would take 3 months for this to happen after the vaccination. I had researched the time frame and AIHA can occur within 24-72 hours to one month post vaccination but nothing after a month. Three months, Wrong! This vet also suggested it must be caused by a genetic defect in my dogs line and to see if her sibling/parents had any problems. Wrong again! They had nothing. I answered her with the above information and then received an e-mail from their attorney.

    The attorney assured me Red Rocks was a small company and very concerned about dogs. They were very concerned that our vets were telling us they called when the company had no record of it. They wanted the names of all vets that had ever treated Blossom. They assumed it was University of Colorado at Ft. Collins we took her to and wanted to know just who we saw there. I gave them the names and phone numbers of both vets that treated her in the acute stage and the ones that called the company. I felt it none of their business who her vets were previously and none of their business who her current vet was. I was also told the company was very concerned about the statements I was making publicly in regards to their vaccine. I replied just try to stop me and posted Blossoms story on every chat group/website I could find.

    I have heard nothing from Red Rocks and it has been over a month. The vaccine is not recommended by Ft Collins Vet School or Davis Vet School. Ft Collins has treated dogs that have been bitten after having the vaccine and found the vaccine made no difference in treatment from unvaccinated dogs. On Red Rocks website the FAQ’s page states a dog that has previously been rattlesnake bitten may have the vaccine once the dog has recovered. Ft. Collins is stating a dog that has been bitten could develop a sensitivity and giving the vaccine could produce anaphylaxis shock.

    I am now told that a Doberman in this area has died from liver failure after receiving the vaccine.

    Another interesting but sad note, is the vet that gave Blossom the vaccine recently told us his Golden Retriever died three hours after receiving the rattlesnake vaccine and another vaccination. He is not sure which vaccination caused the death.

    I have reported this to every government/vet agency I could find and also to Jean Dodds DVM.

    AIHA is a horrible emotional and financial roller coaster.

    Thank you for letting me tell Blossoms story.
    Sherrie Hall
    Chimney Rock Newfoundlands

    UC Davis VMTH– Canine Rattlesnake Vaccine
    “The canine rattlesnake vaccine comprises venom components from Crotalus atrox (western diamondback). Although a rattlesnake vaccine may be potentially useful for dogs that frequently encounter rattlesnakes, currently we are unable to recommend this vaccine because of insufficient information regarding the efficacy of the vaccine in dogs. Dogs develop neutralizing antibody titers to C. atrox venom, and may also develop antibody titers to components of other rattlesnake venoms, but research in this area is ongoing. Owners of vaccinated dogs must still seek veterinary care immediately in the event of a bite, because 1) the type of snake is often unknown; 2) antibody titers may be overwhelmed in the face of severe envenomation, and 3) an individual dog may lack sufficient protection depending on its response to the vaccine and the time elapsed since vaccination. According to the manufacturer, to date, rare vaccinated dogs have died following a bite when there were substantial delays (12-24 hours) in seeking treatment. Recommendations for booster vaccination are still under development, but it appears that adequate titers do not persist beyond one year after vaccination. Adverse reactions appear to be low and consistent with those resulting from vaccination with other products available on the market. The product licence is currently conditional as efficacy and potency have not been fully demonstrated. Based on existing evidence, the UC Davis VMTH does not currently recommend routine vaccination of dogs for rattlesnake envenomation, and the vaccine is not stocked by our pharmacy.”

  13. Roger Snyder
    May 29th, 2008 at 10:41 | #13

    I had my Min Pin vaccinated around 10 days ago. He got a small bump the day after and it has continued growing and growing to the size of a chicken egg. I made an appointment with the vet for tomorrow. Last night he scratched through the skin and some clear/bloody fluid drained out. There is a hole in his flesh left at the injection site. I picked off the scab from this and gently pushed the rest of the fluid out this morning. I look forward to seeing the vet tomorrow morning. Obviously the vaccine is NOT safe for all dogs. Based on my personal experience, I would not reccomend that anyone with a SMALL dog get this vaccine. I also would not recommend it for medium to large dogs unless someone is in a rattlesnake infested area.

  14. June 29th, 2008 at 16:07 | #14

    We have a four month old Puggle (Beagle monther, Pug father). He was vaccinated for his last parvo, lyme disease and rattlesnake on Friday. He whined and cried throughout the day and threw up in the afternoon (not too unusual). Almost 12 hours after the shot, I realized his little body (16 lbs) was covered in hives. His vet does not have emergency hours, so I took him to an emergency vet. They treated with benadryl and steriods. He seems better but is sleeping a lot now. He has a huge lump on one shoulder which could be from any of the vaccines he received that day. The emergency vet said that their office does not recommend the rattlesnake vaccine. The regular vet said that they did not think the rattlesnake vaccine caused it. I’m concerned if we should get the 2nd booster? We are in Nevada and my husband wants to take the pup into the mountains (which is why we thought it would be a good idea). The Beagle blood makes him really want to hunt things down. Any ideas, comments would be welcomed. My email is MichelleScott6555@gmail.com.

  15. Debra
    July 7th, 2008 at 09:15 | #15

    We have had severe side effects of the snake vaccine with our Corgis two weeks after getting the vaccine. Vomitting and diarhea and dehydration for two nights. We keep being told it is not the vaccine, but we experienced this the same way in 2006, almost losing one of the dogs. We are now going to go through the snake avoidance training, and pass on the vaccine i the future. The vaccine almost killed our dog.

  16. Fran Hesser
    October 9th, 2008 at 11:25 | #16

    Our three year old yellow lab was bitten by a rattlesnake three weeks ago and survived the incident with medical care. Luckily, she had the rattlesnake vaccine (three doses) two years ago and boosters each year since.
    We live in southern arizona where rattlesnakes are plentiful. Our vet said she’s had 19 dogs bitten by rattlesnakes so far this year and all but three died. Those three had all had the rattlesnake vaccine. So, of course, I think it’s worthwhile.
    I did notice one possible side effect from the vaccine, but our vet could not definitely say it was from the vaccine. Our dog runs constantly with us – both on hikes and when we ride our horses. Twice, a couple of weeks after getting the vaccine, our lab experienced highquarter difficulties where she seemed to lose control of her limbs. it lasted only a few minutes. We gave her water in case it was a heat stroke and kept her in the shade.
    This year, three weeks after her rattlesnake bite I took her riding with me for the first time and she experienced the same loss of hindquarter control. I’m wondering if there is not something similar in both the vaccine and the actual venom of the rattlesnake which caused a neurological reaction?

  17. Al
    October 14th, 2008 at 09:20 | #17

    WE live in a high-snake area of New Mexico and have had both of our Rhodesians vaccinated using the Red Rock vaccine. Beyond a bit of tenderness at the injection site there has been no negative impact from the vaccine. While the jury is still out on the efficacy of the vaccine even a slight edge given a dog must be taken I believe. If ever there is any negativity resulting from the use of this vaccine I will post it at this site.

  18. Maryanne
    December 12th, 2008 at 21:50 | #18

    I found too late that the rattlesnake vaccine can be dangerous. I live on a canyon and my dog is exposed with minimal risk to rattlesnakes – it could happen, but it is not a snake infested area. My vet advertised the vaccine in the waiting room, and I questioned its efficacy. I was told there were no known side effects. I had my 50-lb Tilly vaccinated. She developed a lump at the site which lasted several weeks. She seemed low on energy, developed skin rashes and, in several weeks, she “slowed down.” That was the beginning of a long decline. Now, six months later, she is in liver failure and is undergoing amino acid i.v. treatments, which is, at this point, just buying her (and me) more time. It has been heartbreaking to watch her health fail.

    While there is no absolute proof that the vaccine caused Tilly’s illness, I believe it’s certainly linked.

  19. jake
    May 8th, 2009 at 20:12 | #19

    I had all 3 of my German Shepherds vaccinated with the redrock vaccine. 24 hours later all 3 of them were noticeably lethargic. As a nurse I contributed this to a possible systemic reaction to the vaccine much as people have to the flu shot. Another day passed and none of my dogs were moving much at all. I called the vet and was told they had no appointments. I took all three dogs to the emergency vet. The last time I saw all 3 of them alive was when they went back to the treatment bay. One died within minutes of being admited the other 2 died within the hour in my arms. I do not reccomend this vaccine to any one.

  20. Marilyn Maniscalco
    July 5th, 2009 at 16:00 | #20

    I would really like a statement from the makers of this vaccine. I was wanting to use it but now I am scared to put my pet through that. She is 12 years old. We live in the deep south in Mississippi and have plenty of snakes. Amend that to a
    “true statement” from verifiable resources.

  21. Shari McCann
    July 13th, 2009 at 13:10 | #21

    The symptoms (hair loss, painful hives and itching) described by Michelle Scott are similar to my mom’s Norwegian Elkhound’s who at approximately five years of age began to have near-fatal reactions to Heartgard. After ruling out food and environmental allergies as the cause of his symptoms, our vets (we saw several specialists) contacted the manufacturer who said no similar cases had been reported. Again, there is always a first. In any case, after nearly losing his life and having to wear an “e collar” for nearly two years while we were treating as an “allergy” my aunt came across a related article on the internet. She suggested my mom stop giving the dog Heartgard and voila!! It takes awhile for the HG to get out of the system but we saw positive results within weeks. Within a few months, his hair and skin grew back in. We subsequently tried topical prescriptions but had the same horrific results within a matter of days/couple weeks. The university in Lansing Michigan should have a case study on this since we took Thor Jr. to them about this. They too had no experience with prior.

  22. Michelle Scott
    September 20th, 2009 at 12:05 | #22

    In response to Shari McCann’s post – our Puggle, did in fact have an allergic reaction to the rattlesnake vaccination. He still has a scar to this day at the injection site.

    His reaction was not caused by Heartgard. I can positively make this statement because he had not started Heartgard at the time of the vaccination.

    I am replying to this post because I fully believe that information is the best cure and I would hate for other people to have their pets suffer as mine dog did from the rattlesnake vaccination.

    While it seems that Elkhound discussed in Shari’s post did have a reaction to Heartgard (and Heartgard is a form of poision that we give our pets), please dear readers, know that many, many people have had adverse reactions to the rattlesnake vaccination. Be informed and weigh the pros and cons before subjecting your puppy to the rattlesnake vaccine.

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