Rattlesnake bites among dogs on the rise

"Snookie" the terrier's neck swelled after she was bitten by a rattlesnake over the weekend.

A drier winter has rattlesnakes on the hunt for something to eat-- and local veterinarians say they're seeing an increase in the number of dogs being bitten by rattlesnakes.

And, they're everywhere in the Central Valley -- not just in the mountains.

"When people come to me and say, 'My dog has swelling, but it's not a rattlesnake, there are no rattlesnakes in Fresno.' I tell them, 'No, there are rattlesnakes in Fresno. Absolutely there are rattlesnakes in Fresno," says Dr. Carrie Strickland with 24/7 Pet Vets in Fresno.

Bonnie Gianoli of Reedley already experienced a close call this weekend with two of her dogs: a terrier named Snookie and a husky named Zeus.

"They're like my second family. My kids are off to college. I'm retired. I have time to enjoy these guys," Gianoli says.

She and her husband take Snookie, Zeus and a third dog, Maya, everywhere.

"We go to Mariposa every weekend to our house," Gianoli says.

"They have a little race. Every time the door opens the two big ones race down to the wood pile to see if the squirrels are around."

And at some point, Zeus and Snookie were bitten.

They began to swell.

It didn't take long for Gianoli to find the culprit: a baby rattlesnake.

"Probably a six to eight-inch coil when I saw it. I was going to step on it. It had one button, really," Gianoli says. "If it rattled I probably wouldn't have heard it."

Her husband later killed it.

While some believe younger rattlesnakes have higher concentrations of venom, Dr. Strickland says that's not the case.

"Adults carry more capacity in their glands for venom," she says. "The larger the snake, the move venom."

There is a vaccine on the market to provide some protection against rattlesnakes.

Snookie got it, and Gianoli is convinced it accelerated her recovery.

Zeus was too young.

Dr. Strickland is familiar with the vaccine, but warns: "There are some studies to show it has some efficacy, but it is not a core vaccine."

Dr. Strickland says getting antivenom is the key.

There is a three-hour window to administer it once a dog has been bit.

She warns against going online looking for a remedy -- let alone trying to suck out the venom yourself.

"It doesn't work!" she says. "You're wasting valuable time.

Get in your car and drive to a vet hospital."

The rattlesnake vaccines run anywhere from 25 to 40 dollars.

It's a series of two vaccines.

The initial one, and a booster.

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