By : Bob Baker

It is rattlesnake season here in Northern Nevada.  Rattlesnake bites are painful, and can be deadly.  There are a few factors that influence the severity of the bite.

1)  Snake Factors

  1. a.   Younger snakes will generally inject more venom.
  2. b.   Single defensive bites are often dry, meaning very little venom injected.
  3. c.    Second and multiple bites will often infuse venom.

2)  Patient Factors

  1. a.   Small dogs and cats are relatively more affected, venom dose per pound.
  2. b.   Location, facial strikes are most common, bites over the chest can be very dangerous.
  3. c.    Curious, rambunctious dog is at higher risk.



1)  Avoid locations where snakes are more likely to be found…rocky areas, water, prey…if there is prey around there are likely snakes.

2)  Avoindance training…probably the BEST preventative option you can take.  Most bites occur with a curious dog investigating the snake.  Accidental stepped on defensive bites still occur.

3)  Vaccine.  There is a vaccine for the rattlesnake toxin, unfortunately there have been NONE (0), NO clinical studies supporting it’s use or substantiating if is of benefit to use in any particular patient.  There are however, a relatively high number of side effects from the rattlesnake vaccine…mostly skin inflammation, necrosis, abscess formation at the site of the injection.


All rattlesnake bite victims need to be seen by a veterinarian, regardless of previous vaccination or state of illness.  Do not apply a tourniquet, cut into the bite, try to suck the venom out…(yes it has been recommended), or give any medication unless directed to do so by a veterinarian.

Once in the hospital, patients are evaluated for severe reactions to the venom.  Treatment includes intravenous fluid therapy to support blood pressure, pain medications, and usually antibiotics.  Antivenin is controversial, there is some research that demonstrated that antivenin did nothing to improve outcome, while others support it use in lessening swelling and pain associated with the bite.  Antivenin is VERY expensive, so it’s use may be dictated by financial constraints as well as medical indications.


Most snake bite victims do quite well, it is rare to see snake bite victims die…but it does happen.  There is generally no long term issues associated with rattlesnake bites.  Once a patient survives the initial wound, the long term prognosis is excellent.