Ariana Balakrishnan described the noise as sounding like a “broken sprinkler.”
Then the broken sprinkler attacked.
“Pretty immediately, we knew something was wrong,” Balakrishnan said.
Zeppelin, Balakrishnan’s 7-year-old Pomeranian, had been bit by a rattlesnake just steps away from home. Balakrishnan and her husband rushed over to a nearby emergency veterinary hospital, and their beloved dog survived.
The couple, however, was left with a $2,500 veterinary bill.
“He’s our kid, for sure,” Balakrishnan said, laughing about her and her husband’s devotion to Zeppelin.
They’re not alone, though, in their willingness to pay up to save their pet from a rattlesnake bit. Dr. Chris Wong, an emergency veterinarian with VCA Sacramento Veterinary Referral Center, says each year, between 40 and 100 animals are brought in to be treated for rattlesnake bites.
Not all of them survive.
“It’s obviously a huge problem. The smaller the animal is, typically, we think snakes are trying to kill and eat them. Behaviorally, that’s what rattlesnakes are after,” Wong said.
As a result, rattlesnakes often release more venom when attacking smaller animals than larger ones.
Wong said there is a rattlesnake vaccine available, which costs, on average, between $70 and $80. But the manufacturer of the drug recommends a booster shortly after the vaccine, and then again every six months, Wong said.
“If you’re out in some area where you can’t get to veterinary care quickly, it provides you with more time to get to a veterinary facility for more care,” he explained.
With that said, Wong said many dog owners’ best bet is rattlesnake aversion therapy. Trainers use an electric collar to gently shock the dog whenever it gets close to the rattlesnake. The idea is to have the dog associate the smell, sight and sound of a rattlesnake with the negative experience, so the dog learns to give the snake a wide berth.
Get Rattled, a Nevada-based company that teaches rattlesnake aversion courses in both that state and California, offers its services for first-time customers for $85.
“This is by far the best choice for this type of training,” Get Rattled’s owner John Potash said, discussing the electric collar. “This is life and death for the dog, so seconds of discomfort are worth the life of your dog.”
Wong said the collars are safe – and agrees that the training is important enough to have pets undergo the experience.
“It’s better than getting bitten by a rattlesnake,” Wong said.