Every year in the United States, 150,000 dogs are bitten by venomous snakes.1 With a statistic like that, you may think that vaccinating dogs against rattlesnakes is a good idea, but there are more factors at play that you may not know about.
Read on to learn more about the rattlesnake vaccine, its effectiveness, and and if it’s right for your pup.
How the Rattlesnake Vaccine Works
It’s important to debunk a myth about the rattlesnake vaccine. The vaccine is not the same as an antivenom and it doesn’t give your pet immunity against rattlesnake venom.1
The rattlesnake vaccine for dogs decreases the severity of a snake bite’s symptoms and delays the venom’s effects. This gives you more time to get your dog to the animal hospital. It may also lessen the amount of antivenom your dog needs to recover.
But how does the vaccine do this? The rattlesnake vaccine stimulates your dog’s immune system to produce protective antibodies that help neutralize the venom once it enters your dog’s body. The vaccine can also help your dog experience less pain and swelling. If the bite wound does swell, the swelling should go down faster.
However, even if your dog is up-to-date on the vaccine and is bitten by a rattlesnake, it may still be considered a medical emergency. Vaccinated or not, it’s highly recommended that you take a pet bitten by a rattlesnake to the nearest animal hospital for antivenom, antibiotics, and fluids.
Rattlesnake vaccine effectiveness
The rattlesnake vaccine (Crotalus atrox toxoid) was developed in 2003 by Red Rock Biologics.2 However, for the past 20 years there’s still debate on its efficacy.3
A single study on the rattlesnake vaccine was conducted from 2006 – 2012 and included 82 dogs. It was considered inconclusive, with no statistically significant difference between unvaccinated and vaccinated dogs’ mortality rates after being bitten.3 Further, no immunologists or internists have supported the vaccine.
While there is anecdotal evidence of delayed symptoms and lower mortality rates in vaccinated dogs who have been bitten, there’s little to no scientific evidence to support the vaccine due to the lack of controlled studies. Plus, some snake bites are dry, so many of these cases could have been when the snake didn’t inject venom into the dog.
Rattlesnake Vaccine Schedule
The rattlesnake vaccine is administered as an injection. Puppies as young as 16 weeks of age are eligible for the shot. They’ll need two shots 30 days apart for the initial vaccination round. The manufacturer recommends annual boosters following those initial injections.3
It can take 30 days for dogs to reach peak protection, so it may be a good idea to give your dog a booster a month before rattlesnake season starts in April.3
Rattlesnake Vaccine for Dogs: Pros and Cons
If you take your dog hiking, camping, or hunting with you in rattlesnake-populated states like Texas and Arizona, you may be considering getting them the rattlesnake vaccine. Here are some pros and cons to ponder over before making the decision to vaccinate your dog.
- The vaccine may decrease the amount of antivenom your dog needs.
- It could delay venom symptoms, lower pain, and minimize swelling at the site of a bite.
- The vaccine offers cross-protection for Eastern diamondback, prairie, Northern Pacific, Southern Pacific, Great Basin and timber rattlesnakes. It could also protect against massasauga, copperhead, and sidewinder snake bites.3
- There’s a lack of scientific evidence and peer reviewed studies on the vaccine’s effectiveness.
- Potential side effects include swelling at the site and temporary flu-like symptoms.4
- The vaccine doesn’t protect against coral, Mojave, or cottonmouth snakes.3
The Cost of Rattlesnake Vaccine for Dogs
The rattlesnake vaccine cost can vary depending on your veterinarian, where you live, and the dosage required for your dog. But it generally ranges from $30 – $50.1
Bottom Line: Talk to Your Veterinarian
The rattlesnake vaccine may be worth considering for your dog if they have constant exposure to rattlesnakes and have a high risk of being bitten. However, between the lack of clinical studies and veterinary uncertainty surrounding this vaccine, it may not be the right choice for all dogs. Talk to your veterinarian about the vaccine and if they think it’s right for your pup.
MetLife Pet‘s accident and illness insurance policies may help cover treatment if your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake.5 Additionally, MetLife Pet offers a Wellness Plan add-on that may cover vaccinations such as the rattlesnake vaccine.6 Remember, whether your dog is vaccinated or not, it may still be an emergency and they may need treatment.
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1 “Rattlesnake Vaccine for Dogs,” Great Pet Care
2 “Rattlesnake Vaccine (Crotalus Atrox Toxoid) for dogs,” Red Rock Biologics
3 “Effects of the canine rattlesnake vaccine in moderate to severe cases of canine crotalid envenomation,” National Library of Medicine
4 “Rattlesnake Vaccine FAQ,” Methow Valley Veterinary Hospital
5 Provided all terms of the policy are met. Application is subject to underwriting review and approval. Like most insurance policies, insurance policies issued by IAIC and MetGen contain certain deductibles, co-insurance, exclusions, exceptions, reductions, limitations, and terms for keeping them in force. For costs, complete details of coverage and exclusions, and a listing of approved states, please contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC.
6 Available at an additional cost.
Coverage underwritten and issued by Independence American Insurance Company (“IAIC”), a Delaware insurance company, headquartered at 11333 N Scottsdale Rd, Ste 160, Scottsdale, AZ 85254 or Metropolitan General Insurance Company (“MetGen”), a Rhode Island insurance company, headquartered at 700 Quaker Lane, Warwick, RI 02886. Coverage subject to restrictions, exclusions and limitations. Application is subject to underwriting review. See policy or contact MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC for details. MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions LLC is the policy administrator for this coverage. The entity may operate under an alternate, assumed, and/or fictitious name in certain jurisdictions as approved, including MetLife Pet Insurance Services LLC (New York and Minnesota), MetLife Pet Insurance Solutions Agency LLC (Illinois).”