Kamloops resident Barry Stabeck and his dog Boomer were walking off-trail near Tranquille Creek last week when the usually bouncy canine lay down and put up his paw.
“I noticed a couple of blood spots,” Stabeck told KTW. “Right down on his lower leg.”
A Kamloops veterinary clinic confirmed the 45-kilogram (100-pound) Labrador retriever-great Pyrenees cross had been struck twice by a rattlesnake and needed antivenin.
Rattlesnake venom acts as a blood thinner and can be deadly, depending on how much of the poison is released.
However, antivenin was not available for Boomer at any vet clinic in Kamloops.
Veterinary clinics in Kamloops do not carry the expensive medication and Royal Inland Hospital wouldn’t lend its product, which is intended for humans.
Barry and Boomer’s only option was a two-hour drive to the Fairfield Animal Hospital in Kelowna.
The trip and services cost Stabeck $2,500.
As his dog returns to his bouncy self, Stabeck is raising the alarm over man’s best friend close call with a rattler.
Stabeck contacted the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, the federal agency that regulates drugs in Canada, and provided emails to KTW revealing limited access to rattlesnake antivenin not only for pets on Canada’s West Coast, but across the country.
According to the agency, only two clinics in Canada (one in Kelowna and another in Ontario) have imported rattlesnake antivenin, which requires a permit.
It’s all enough to rattle Stabeck.
“We live in rattlesnake country. And this is a really big year, apparently. I got a message from a fellow that drives down Red Lake Road from the ’80s,” Stabeck said.
“He said he’s never seen so many rattlesnakes on the road …. I think at least one [Kamloops] vet should go through the process to get the anti-venom in.”
Rattlesnakes are active in the area from May through mid-September.
WildSafeBC provincial co-ordinator Frank Ritcey said when rattlesnakes bite an animal or human it’s defensive.
"They’re not out to kill you because they can’t eat you," Ritcey said. "There’s no benefit to it. When they strike, they’re feeling threatened. As long as a snake isn’t feeling threatened, it’s going to leave you alone."
Kamloops veterinarian Cam Koerselman told KTW a lack of antivenin availability locally is mostly cost-related.
The $1,000 medication expires. In addition, rattlesnake bites among pets are rare — Koerselman has seen only one in nearly a decade — and not every case requires antivenin.
“It would just expire and it’s way too expensive to have it on hand,” he said.
Kamloops veterinarian Ken Gummeson said dogs usually survive rattlesnake bites without antivenin, depending on how much venom is released.
He noted intravenous fluids and pain management usually suffice.
In the past, the hospital has sold antivenin to veterinary clinics, but Gummeson said there is “no guarantee” and costs are in the thousands of dollars.
Fairfield manager Shannon Fisk told KTW antivenin from MG Biologics is imported from the United States. It stays frozen until use and expires within two years.
Fisk said her clinic receives referrals from throughout the Okangan, with Kamloops being the farthest city from which referrals have been received.
Fairfield sees eight to 10 cases each year as an emergency practice staffed 24 per hours day, year-round. In the worst cases, Fisk said, pets have about four hours to receive the antivenin.
On that note, Koerselman recommends pet owners get their animals to a local veterinary clinic as soon as possible if they suspect a rattlesnake bite.
He said referrals can be made with a quick phone call. Being that pet owners don’t often see their pets get bitten, he noted bites can look like a gash on a lip.
Symptoms include swelling, severe immediate pain, bruising, trouble breathing and numbness.
Meanwhile, Stabeck is warning hikers and their furry friends who frequent Tranquille Creek.
Rattlesnakes have also been spotted in the past in Batchelor Heights and the Lac du Bois grasslands.
“They like sunning themselves on the rocks,” Stabeck said.
“People have seen them actually on the creek on rocks.”