Hikers should be mindful of rattlesnakes in the wild — especially if they’re pet owners.
Bites and pet bites aren’t common, but still an occurrence to watch for in the Mid-Columbia. Rattlesnakes tend to emerge from winter dens around April, according to the state Department of Natural Resources.
Fermin Godinez, an emergency room doctor at Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland, sees at least a couple of rattlesnake bites each summer.
Godinez advises people to stay on trail paths, don’t move rocks and stay away from bushes off paths where the snakes could hide.
If you see a snake out in the open, don’t get close.
“They want to stay away from us just as much as we want to stay away from them,” Godinez said.
Unfortunately, pets get a little more curious.
Hank Oliver, lead veterinarian at Pasco Animal Hospital, said owners should keep their dogs on a leash so they don’t get bit.
“When dogs are off leash, they’re running around, checking things,” Oliver said. “They’ll actually smell (rattlesnakes) and go exploring.”
Rattlesnakes are less likely to bite pets within city limits.
“It’s usually people who are out in rural areas with their dogs, hiking along the river,” Oliver said.
The last rattlesnake bite Oliver saw at his Pasco clinic was about a month ago.
“We usually see one or two a year,” he said. “It’s been pretty consistent.”
They want to stay away from us just as much as we want to stay away from them.
Fermin Godinez, emergency room doctor
If a rattlesnake bites a person, do not try to suck the venom out of the wound — apply pressure or use any mechanical device. Calmly move away from the snake and then seek medical attention, Godinez said.
Depending on symptoms, doctors will rule whether the snake was venomous. Antivenom vials at Kadlec could cost patients up to $3,000 to $5,000 before other expenses, Godinez said.
“We don’t hold a lot of those vials on hand here,” he said. “We try to use it very sparingly.”
For pet bites, rattlesnake antivenom and a vaccine that could help slow the effects are two common options.
Lynn Harbinson, medical director at VCA Vineyard Animal Hospital in Kennewick, said one company, Red Rock Biologics, sells the vaccine to Mid-Columbia Pet Emergency Services in Pasco, which can be reached at 509-547-3577.
“They seem to be pretty effective,” Harbinson said.
The vaccine helps slow the venom’s effects when an animal gets bit, but does not replace emergency treatment. Contact your veterinary clinic or emergency animal hospital immediately.
“If your dog does get bit by a snake, they do still really need to have emergency veterinary care,” Harbinson said. “It’s quite expensive because it’s the same product that’s used for humans.”
Standard antivenom treatment for a single dose could run from $650 to $1,000, depending on the size of the dog.
Snake avoidance training for your pet is another option to help prevent bites, Harbinson and Oliver said. Most training in the Tri-Cities area is announced through local events calendars.
More information on rattlesnakes in Washington and bite prevention can be found at wdfw.wa.gov/ living/snakes.html.