1) Can the vaccine be given to cats?
According to a representative of Red Rock Biologics, only 50 cats have had vaccine testing performed as of April 2008. In these specimens, higher titers have been seen than in dogs suggesting that cats actually respond better to the vaccine. In a few subjects, systemic lethargy was seen and, based on prior research done on the adjuvant within the vaccine, 2 in 10,000 cats may develop sarcomas at the point of injection even years post vaccination. Despite an absence of official data, the high titer levels displayed by cat specimens in experiments to date does allow us to give the vaccine off-label to cats provided their owners understand that it may have risks, and that it should only be given when the benefits outweigh those risks. Should an owner desire to give their cat the vaccine, it may be given following the protocol for mid-size dogs: two initially spaced one month apart, followed by semi-annual or annual boosters based on exposure.
2) Does it provide protection against more than one type of snake? To which species and to what degree?
Yes, significant cross-protection has been shown both in laboratory and field studies. The vaccine provides various levels of protection against the most common species of American rattlesnakes and Copperheads.
Best protection: Western and Western Diamondback rattlesnakes
Moderate protection: Pygmy, Massasauga, Sidewinder, and Timber rattlesnakes.
Limited protection: Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake.
No Protection: Mojave rattlesnake, Coral snakes, and Cottonmouth snakes.
3) If a previously unvaccinated animal is bitten and treated, can the bite act as the initial vaccine in the series or must they undergo the same protocol as others?
While it is true that the bite provides exposure to rattlesnake venom, thus causing the animal’s body to react with antibodies against it, it is not recommended that this be the only protection received against future bites. Even rattlesnakes of the same species can have variances in their venom; thus, one’s bite may not protect against another’s even when of the same species. It is for this reason that the vaccine is produced using multiple snakes. In addition to venom variations, other factors, like the age of the snake and how many times it bit the animal, play a role in how many antibodies the animal would produce. This is why the vaccine is calculated and dosed very specifically to produce a proper antibody level when the protocol is followed. When all these factors have been accounted for, the vaccine becomes a much preferred option over a bite in terms of future protection.
4) How soon after being treated for a bite can an owner start the vaccine protocol?
The normal vaccine protocol can begin 30 days post resolution of clinical signs.
5) What time range do the owners have to give the second or third vaccine in the initial series, should they miss the 4 week recommended time?
4 weeks is the ideal time for the booster to be given, however, according to Red Rock Biologics, as long as the boosters are given 3 – 6 weeks apart from each other, they should still work fine. Should an owner miss this window they should start the vaccine series over or ask send out a titer test to Red Rock Biologics.
6) Why does a vaccinated animal still require examination and/or treatment?
The vaccine is by no means a treatment or cure for rattlesnake venom. Its purpose is to lessen damage from snakebites by providing the dog with antibodies against the venom prior to an actual bite. Knowing this, the vaccine does have limitations. Full antibody protection is not reached until 30 days following boosters. Special circumstances can also lead to decreased effectiveness of the vaccine. These include small/large dogs, larger snakes, baby snakes, multiple bites, bites into or near veins and/or vital organs, each individual dog’s response to the vaccine, and snakes to which the vaccine provides no protection.
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