As discussions and debates regarding Rattlesnake Vaccine for Dogs continue, so does a great deal of misinformation. This article is intended to present some of the pros and cons, dispel the myths, and lay a groundwork for an educated conversation between you and your veterinarian.
Does it work? Yes… and No, depending on how you define “work”.
First, it is absolutely crucial that everyone understands that this product does not, and was never intended to, eliminate the need for immediate veterinary care including anti-venom. This bears repeating as I regularly hear handlers tell me that they don’t worry about Rattlesnakes anymore because their dog has been vaccinated. The vaccine does not prevent the poisonous effects of venom. According to manufacturer Red Rock Biologics “vaccinated dogs experience less pain and have a reduced risk of permanent injury from rattlesnake bite”. How much less and how reduced?
Unfortunately, the manufacturer has chosen not to make their research available for peer review or to the public. Anecdotal evidence suggests the product helps to minimize pain, reduce swelling, and ultimately reduces tissue damage and the likelihood of death. Of particular interest to SAR Handlers is that the symptoms may have a more gradual onset. Some Veterinarians have observed delays of about 1 hr, which can make a crucial difference when your dog is in the field. Furthermore, it seems that, once you reach the veterinarian, less anti-venom may be required, which would be good for both your dog and your wallet.
Which Snakes does it Protect Against?
Also realize that the vaccine was designed specifically to protect against the Western Diamondback. The manufacturer claims that is also provides protection against the Western Rattlesnake (including the Prairie, Great Basin, Northern and Southern Pacific Rattlesnakes), Sidewinder, Timber Rattlesnake, Massasauga and Copperhead, plus partial protection against the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. In 2015, a double-blind study in mice (Am J Vet Res. 2015 Mar;76(3):272-9. doi: 10.2460/ajvr.76.3.272) suggested that the vaccination improved survival rate for the Western Diamond rattlesnake venom and may offer limited protection against Northern Pacific rattlesnake venom but did not provide significant cross-protection against Southern Pacific rattlesnake venom. Finally, it is important to note that it provides NO protection against Water Moccasins (Cottonmouths), Mojave Rattlesnakes, or Coral Snakes.
How Long Does It Last?
The duration of efficacy is also often overlooked. The typical dosage is usually considered to be 1 booster at 1 month and yearly after that. However, this dosage is based on a 6-month snake season and in Southern California we see snake bite season starting as early as March. Also, the maximum efficacy is reached 4-6 weeks after injection. Subsequently, the manufacturer recommends that depending on the exposure and weight of your dog (< 25lbs) you may need to add an additional booster in the initial sequence and/or consider boosting your dog every 4 months. Refer to the Red Rock Biologic’s specific dosing and scheduling recommendations and, as always, discuss with your veterinarian.
It’s also important to consider the potential side effects of the vaccine. All vaccines have the potential for reactions. While we often hear stories of unfortunate and frightening side effects, to date it appears that the rattlesnake vaccine has a similar reaction rate and intensity of most other vaccines. So, consider how you and your veterinarian feel about other vaccines. Perhaps the biggest difference with this vaccine is that you may need to administer 2-3 times more often than others.
The Answer is Clear: Yes, No, Sometimes-So
So perhaps the real question is what are you willing to invest/risk for the potential of an extra hour and reduced treatments when exposed to certain types of rattlesnakes? Answers will vary from handler to handler and even from dog to dog of the same handler. If you do choose to use the Vaccine, then make sure you have a dosing schedule which matches your exposure.
Originally published in Oct 2010 by K9 MEDIC®. Written by Jo-Anne Brenner, Tim Crowe, DVM, DACVS, DACVECC, NREMT-I, and Steven Mensack, VMD, DACVECC. Last Revision May 2020 by K9 MEDIC®, Written by Jo-Anne Brenner, Robin Van Metre, VMD and KaLee Pasek, DVM.