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What to do when snakes bite

Posted: April 7, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 6, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Kara, a 4-year-old pit bull, was bitten by a rattlesnake in her Canyon Country backyard on March 5. With quick action by her owner, Kyle Harris, and five days of veterinary care, Kara was able to recover and is back to her happy, healthy self.

Her dogs were circling something in the backyard, but surely it couldn’t be a rattlesnake. It was only March 5, after all, way too early for snake season.

“They were barking, so I ran out and saw the whole pack formed around a snake that was hissing and coiling,” said Kyle Harris, of Canyon Country. “When I told them ‘No’ and had them come inside, I thought we had dodged a bullet.”

Just 20 minutes later, Harris noticed that Kara, her pit bull, was starting to swell around the head and neck. Harris acted quickly, removing Kara’s collar and calling the emergency veterinarian hospital.

“I told them to be ready for us. It was about 5 in the evening on a Sunday; everything else was closed,” Harris said. “Kara didn’t cry. She was stoic, but she looked terrible and was panting heavily.”

According to Terry Dayton, owner of Saugus-based Seco Canyon Animal Clinic, which treated Kara after she was discharged from the emergency clinic, Harris did all the right things.

“You need to take your pet to emergency immediately. Depending on the type of snake it is, the toxin can cause tissue to disintegrate and rot. Most snakes out here are a cross of a Western diamondback and a Mojave green. Mojave green rattlesnakes’ venom contains a neurotoxin which shuts down the dog’s neurological system. They forget how to breathe,” Dayton said.

Typical veterinary care for canine snakebite victims includes antivenom, which costs about $800 per vial, followed by fluids through IV catheters and pain medications. The dog’s system needs to be filtered out and treated for shock. This recovery process generally takes four to five days.

“Once you’ve cleared that they’re able to eat on their own, it’s pretty much back to normal,” Dayton said. “We also make sure there’s no rotting of flesh and prescribe antibiotics.”

To date, Dayton has seen three canine snakebite victims this year at her practice.

“This is early for bites. We’ve had such strange weather. There are some areas where rattlesnakes never really go dormant. They could just be hibernating one or two months and come out,” she said.

Over the season, Seco Canyon Animal Clinic usually treats 10 to 12 dogs for rattlesnake bites, and Dayton estimates that 80 percent live through the ordeal if they’re treated right away.

In terms of prevention, Dayton is an advocate of rattlesnake vaccines, which build up antibodies against the venom. Vaccinated dogs still need fast veterinary care, but the treatment time window is increased.

Rattlesnake-avoidance clinics, which train dogs to stay away from snakes in the first place, are another option.

“Most dogs only have to take it once. They put a shock collar on the dog, and it associates the rattlesnake with pain. These classes are especially helpful for Labradors and other hunting breeds that like to sniff and investigate and are designed to hunt,” Dayton said.

Since Kara’s frightening incident, which cost $2,300, Harris has vaccinated all her dogs. She’s also cleared out the family’s yard of water sources, which snakes are attracted to, and sealed up any cracks and crevices that smaller snakes can fit through.

“I watch my dogs like a hawk now and keep them out of the yard during the hottest times of the day. Dog owners need to be aware and take precautions,” Harris said.

The SCV Quail & Upland Wildlife Federation will offer “Snake Break” rattlesnake avoidance clinics for dogs on April 28 and 29, May 19 and 20, and June 16 and 17 at Mint Canyon Community School Utility Field, 16400 Sierra Highway, Canyon Country.

The cost is $65 per dog and sessions are by appointment only. Contact 661-297-0876 for more information or visit to download a registration form. AngelDogs Foundation mobile clinic offers rattlesnake vaccinations for $15 from 9 a.m. to noon the first three Wednesdays of each month at Backwoods Inn, 17846 Sierra Highway, Canyon Country. No appointment necessary. Visit or call 888-504-SPAY for more information.


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