Summertime hazards are here, and the two most common ones that we have seen in recent weeks include rattlesnake bites and foxtails.

If your dog has access to open space, including a backyard which backs up to open space, be aware of rattlesnakes. These snakes are shy and usually are not seen, but a persistent or unlucky dog will get bit.

Clinical signs include severe pain and swelling at the bite site. Almost all of the dogs that we see with snakebites are hospitalized, but rarely are the bites fatal. Complications can include blood clotting abnormalities, tissue necrosis or death surrounding the puncture site, and rarely, muscular weakness which can progress to temporary paralysis.

There is a vaccine against rattlesnake bites which has been available in California for a several years. The purpose of the vaccination is to protect against the venom of the western diamondback rattlesnake (crotalus atrox). The vaccine provides cross-protection against the venom of our most common rattlesnake, the northern Pacific rattlesnake.

Administered to dogs in spring, before the rattlesnakes become active, the vaccine stimulates the dog's immune system to make antibodies against the venom.

The manufacturer states that dogs with severe bites present to veterinarians with clinical signs that appear closer to a mild-to-moderate bite, with little swelling and pain, and these dogs may require less time in the hospital. The vaccine has been shown to be safe with side effects similar to other vaccines, including swelling and pain at the injection site and rarely, vomiting and lethargy.


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We still recommend hospitalization and treatment with antivenin for all of our rattlesnake victims.

Another option for dog owners whose dogs are exposed to snakes is rattlesnake aversion class. These classes are taught by experienced dog trainers who use live rattlesnakes to taunt your dog, who is then shocked with a remote controlled shock collar if it shows interest in the snake.

While this training technique may sound inhumane to many of you, it may save your dog a lot of pain and you a lot of money if it works. If you are interested in such a class, contact your local hunt club or dog trainer for recommendations.

Foxtails are awns from a common weed we have here in California. They look like a little arrow with a point on one end. This point can penetrate skin, and foxtails can be found in or on almost every part of a pet's body.

They get stuck in eyes, ears, noses, tonsils, lungs, bladders, vaginas, feet, vertebral area, etc. Foxtails are found everywhere in the environment. They are more common in open space areas but are also found growing between cracks in the sidewalk. And the wind can blow the awns into your yard from an adjacent area.

Foxtails carry bacteria with them so they form abscesses if they are under the skin, or within the body. They can be deadly, but most of the time they cause chronic infections and pain. Avoiding foxtails can be difficult but there are some things you can do.

Have the groomer shave the feet and belly of your dog which makes finding and removing foxtails easier before they penetrate the skin.

There are also foxtail hoods that dogs can wear, like the one found at www.outfoxfieldguard.com. While these dogs may look a little funny, these hoods will protect dogs from foxtails entering the body via the head, especially the inhaled foxtails which are the most dangerous.

Go out and enjoy the summer with your dog, and hopefully you can avoid these hazards at the same time.

Ask Dr. Jill Veterinary Advice is a column written by Jill Christofferson, DVM, of the Encina Veterinary Hospital in Walnut Creek. Contact her at askthevet@encinavet.com.

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