Does My Dog Need a Rattlesnake Vaccine Before We Go Hiking in the Mountains?

Q: I hike with my Lab in the Santa Monica Mountains. Should I get a rattlesnake vaccine for her?

A: There is presently no evidence of efficacy of the rattlesnake vaccine in dogs. UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital does not carry the vaccine and does not recommend its use. Even if your dog is vaccinated and is bitten, the same treatments will be necessary.

Those validated treatments include IV fluid therapy and rattlesnake antivenin. There is no evidence that previously vaccinating dogs “buys" you some extra time before symptoms appear, or allows for delayed treatment.

I discussed the vaccine’s use with a clinician at UC Davis. She had an interesting point, in that there are no venomous snake vaccines for people, so why do we think there would be an effective vaccine for dogs. She also pointed out some

research that showed that some dogs, previously vaccinated, developed anaphylaxis after the rattlesnake bite. She also discussed research in horses that showed that the antibody production by the vaccine was less than than the natural immunity produced in response to a bite. She felt that this was pretty strong evidence for the lack of efficacy of the vaccine.

Additionally, there was a research paper written by Dr. McGee Leonard who notes,“ ... this study did not identify a significantly protective effect of previous (rattlesnake) vaccination in cases of moderate to severe rattlesnake envenomation…” This study was performed at a large 24-hour veterinary ER in West Los Angeles.

I do not recommend the rattlesnake vaccine at this time.

Paws and Claws Column: By Dr. Frank Lavac MS, DVM He can be reached at his office at VCA Wilshire Animal Hospital, 310-828-4587.

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