Rattlesnakes: Watch your step!

By Rachael Huether
You’re walking through a field in some tall grass, when suddenly you hear that distinctive rattle. You are alarmed, but not surprised. Many of us, being in a rural community, have either known someone who has come into contact with a rattlesnake or done so ourselves. What do you do, though, when you hear that rattling in an area where you usually would not find rattlesnakes, say near your home? For many of us, this can cause fear and panic.
Jean Parker, a local woman who lives just south-east of Gordon,  has recently had to deal with just this situation. A puppy, which Jean had rescued and was attempting to find a permanent home for, was bitten by a rattlesnake just outside her door. Hearing her dogs barking and then yelping, she went outside to find the snake in her yard, having just bitten the puppy underneath its eye. Having dealt with rattlesnakes before, Jean quickly killed the snake to protect herself and the other animals.
Unfortunately, by the time Jean got the puppy to the vet, it was too late and treatment would have been useless.
Jean urges other pet owners to speak to their veterinarian about getting anti-venom as a precautionary measure so that they can avoid the tragic outcome of her puppy.
If you should come into contact with a rattlesnake, the easiest and safest thing to do is to get out of their way. Only get near the snake if you are going to kill it, which should be done only if you have experience. When the snake is dead, the head should be buried to protect other people, livestock and pets, as the venom remains deadly after the snake is dead.
If you or someone you know is bitten by a rattlesnake, the following steps should be taken:
• Get to safety away from the snake.
• Call for emergency assistance immediately, as the antivenin should be given within four hours. Anti-venom is usually not effective if given more than 12 hours after the bite.
• Lie down, rest and keep calm.
• Wash the bite gently with soap and water.
• Keep warm and do not try to cool the area of the bite, as this can cause further tissue damage.
• Remove all jewelry and constrictive clothing in case of swelling.
• Loosely immobilize the affected area, keeping it lower than the heart.
• Do not apply a tourniquet.
• Monitor heart rate and breathing.
• Do not eat or drink anything.
• Keep track of what time the bite occurred and what the snake looked like so it can be reported to the attending physician.
• If possible, draw a circle around the bite so the progression of the bite can be observed.
The best thing you can do for your pets to protect them against rattlesnake bites is getting them vaccinated. By getting them the rattlesnake vaccination, the reaction to a bite is reduced and even delayed, though not completely eliminated. Your pet will still need immediate veterinarian care, but will also likely need less anti-venom. Also, you should know the signs that your pet has been bitten:
• Puncture wounds (with or without bleeding)
• Severe pain
• Swelling, restlessness, panting, drooling, lethargy, weakness, collapse, muscle tremors, diarrhea, seizures, or neurological sings including depressed respiration.

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