Canine rattlesnake vaccination clinics will no longer be available in Three Rivers

From Autumn Davidson, DVM

Dear 3R dog folks,

3R Canine Rattlesnake vaccination clinics will no longer be available. I am sorry, as I know many folks appreciated these and took the opportunity to get vaccinations for multiple dogs at a lower cost.

A rattlesnake bite in the dog is a true pet emergency, and time to the vet is critical, even in a vaccinated dog. The rattlesnake vaccination is an often misunderstood pet vaccine because it does not offer immunity from the effects of a bite. Rather, it can help to decrease the severity of the effects of a bite and buy you a little more time to seek veterinary attention.

After last year’s clinic, one vaccinated dog developed a malignant tumor, afibrosarcoma, at the site of the injection. This prompted me to do some more research on the vaccine.

Years ago, veterinarians noted that many cats developed a malignant tumor, afibrosarcoma, at the site of certain vaccinations (rabies and feline leukemia primarily). Some of these vaccinations contained aluminum, to improve their efficacy. Because of this, aluminum containing vaccines are no longer given to cats, who now receive primarily recombinant vaccines.

The only commercially available rattlesnake vaccine for dogs contains aluminum, to improve its stimulation of the immune system. I contacted the Red Rock company, manufacturer of the vaccine, and was informed I had the first reported case of potential association of the development of a fibrosarcoma at the site of vaccination. They did not agree with a cause and effect but recorded my report.

This is the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine position on the Canine Rattlesnake Vaccine:

The canine rattlesnake vaccine comprises venom components from Crotalus atrox (western diamondback). Although a rattlesnake vaccine may be potentially useful for dogs that frequently encounter rattlesnakes, currently we are unable to recommend this vaccine because of insufficient information regarding the efficacy of the vaccine in dogs. Dogs develop neutralizing antibody titers to C. atrox venom and may also develop antibody titers to components of other rattlesnake venoms, but research in this area is still ongoing. Owners of vaccinated dogs must still seek veterinary care immediately in the event of a bite, because 1) the type of snake is often unknown; 2) antibody titers may be overwhelmed in the face of severe envenomation, and 3) an individual dog may lack sufficient protection depending on its response to the vaccine and the time elapsed since vaccination. According to the manufacturer, to date, rarely, vaccinated dogs have died following a bite when there were substantial delays (12-24 hours) in seeking treatment. Boosters are recommended at least annually while dogs remain at risk. Adverse reactions appear to be low and consistent with those resulting from vaccination with other products available on the market. Based on existing evidence, the UC Davis veterinary hospital does not currently recommend routine vaccination of dogs for rattlesnake envenomation, and the vaccine is not stocked by our drug room.

I simply cannot, in good conscience, give this vaccination to dogs after this experience. I suggest discussing the pros and cons of this vaccination with your personal veterinarians. As for myself, all of my dogs will continue to undergo Rattlesnake Aversion training as needed to diminish their chances of coming into contact with a rattlesnake. (Contact Helen Bauer)

Here is a PhD thesis on the topic, interesting read!

Stay safe! Feel free to email me with questions or comments.

Autumn Davidson DVM