Rattlesnake Vaccine: The Why-not’s

Summertime is here! Which means hiking, camping, and a number of other outdoor activities are on everyone’s agenda – which brings an increased risk of running into wildlife predators, such as rattlesnakes. We have had a number of phone calls inquiring about the rattlesnake vaccine, and so we wanted to take this opportunity to talk about why we do not offer this vaccination. 

Both of our veterinarians, Dr. Joe and Dr. Pam, are graduates of UC Davis, and we follow their recommendations closely, and stay up to date with the studies and protocol that UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine practices. The short story is that the rattlesnake vaccine has had minimal studies performed, and is still pending approval by the F.D.A. 

“The Canine Rattlesnake Vaccine (Red Rock Biologics) comprises venom components from Crotalus atrox (Western Diamondback). The vaccine became available in the early 2000s as a means of preventing morbidity and mortality in dogs likely to be bitten by rattlesnakes. Although there may be circumstances where a rattlesnake vaccine may be potentially useful for dogs that frequently encounter rattlesnakes, there remains little fact-based data to support the efficacy of the vaccine to date. Dogs do develop neutralizing antibody titers to C. atrox venom, but titers may vary and frequent boosters (4-6 months) may be required to maintain titers. Vaccine costs are between $20.00 to $40.00 per injection. According to the manufacturer, rare vaccinated dogs have died following a bite when there were substantial delays (12-24 hours) in seeking treatment. According to the manufacturer, no new efficacy trials have been performed to verify efficacy.

Although the product is relatively safe, even vaccinated dogs bitten by rattlesnakes should be considered a veterinary emergency. This is due to the fact that 1) snake venom components vary with species and some (e.g., Mojave rattlesnake) may not be covered by the vaccine 2) antibody titers may be overwhelmed in the face of severe envenomation, and 3) an individual dog may lack protection depending on its response to the vaccine and the time elapsed since vaccination. 

Antivenin and other types of supportive care are still recommended in vaccinated dogs as there is no significant difference in the course of therapy if the animal is bitten.”

The key points in this article from UC Davis, point out that even with the vaccine on board, the same treatment procedure is highly recommended for pets bit by rattlesnakes. If you have any questions regarding the vaccine, please feel free to call!


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