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Snakebite!

posted May 27th, 2013 by
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by Lauren Cavagnolo

 

It was a typical day in September last year for Felicia Russell and her dog Deacon. Russell was getting ready for work and Deacon, a 9-yearold German Shorthaired Pointer, was outside.

When it was time for her to leave, he came right into the house and settled into his crate.

“He didn’t act unusual, and I had no reason to inspect him for anything,” Russell said. She left for work and returned about six hours later.

“When I opened the crate, he staggered out drooling, and his head was the size of a football,” Russell said. “His left eye was swollen shut, and I saw blood on his legs and face. I knew immediately what had happened because I have had a dog bitten by a copperhead previously. For some odd reason, I checked the crate for a snake!”

She quickly loaded Deacon into the car and took him to Oklahoma Veterinary Specialists, an all-hours emergency facility, and called from the road to let them know they were on the way.

“They were ready when we came in the door,” Russell said. “Since he had been in his crate for over six hours immediately after the bite, his blood was seriously affected, and they determined antivenin therapy was the best option.”

Inspection showed he had at least a half dozen bites and three envenomated bites, one of which was only a quarter of an inch from his eye. Left untreated, serious damage could have been done to his internal organs, Russell said.

Deacon stayed at OVS for four days until he was stable enough to go home. Overall, the cost of his treatment exceeded $4,500.

He was just one of 21 dogs with snake bites that required antivenin therapy treated by OVS veterinarians last year, according to Shad Wilkerson, DVM, at OVS.

Though Deacon was able to go home just several days after being treated, he also had some longterm effects from the attack.

For the most part, he made a swift recovery, Russell says, “with the exception of the necrotic tissue on his face. That took a few weeks to slough off. He still lacks hair in the directly affected areas.”

Deacon also suffered from clotting issues and red blood cell restriction.

“I can’t do rabies on him anymore because of the effect on his blood,” Russell said. “There have been a couple of cases of snake bitten dogs that had brain seizures and swelling following rabies vaccination. If I ever have a question about his immunity to rabies, I will have a titer done.”

Elena Shirley, DVM, of Hunters Glen Veterinary Hospital, explains that depending on the type of snake and the type of poison, it can interfere in different ways with the animal’s clotting factors.

“Some animals can experience bleeding disorders or coagulopathies, those are the kind of things, even once we get the immediate symptoms under control, that can linger, and we have to monitor that as you go forward,” Shirley said.

Shirley, a general practitioner who has treated her share of dogs with snake bites, says it can take up to two weeks for other symptoms to kick in.

Rarely, some animals will experience what is called “serum sickness” or an unusual reaction to any foreign substance in the body, she said. Symptoms include hives, joint pain, fever and general malaise.

Where we seem to get a lot of snakebites is late summer when it’s really hot outside, Wilkerson said. “The rattlesnakes and the copperheads, in particular, tend to become more crepuscular or active at dusk and dawn because it is really hot in the middle of the day.”

People also tend to keep their pets inside at the hottest part of the day.

“It’s too hot in the daytime for all the different creatures to be out so everybody congregates in the cooler hours of the day,” Wilkerson said.

Even though late summer is when a lot of snake bites occur, venomous snakes start to come out as early as April, he said.

Typical spring cleaning behaviors, such as taking pool covers off and clearing leaves and underbrush can unintentionally disturb venomous snakes, Shirley said.

“They are not lying in wait to kill people, but they are protecting themselves,” Shirley said. “They are conserving energy at certain times of the year, and they are also protecting nests, and if you see them out during the day, it’s pretty unusual.”

Wilkerson and Shirley both say that the most common venomous snakes in the area are the copperhead, rattlesnake and the occasional water moccasin.

“We really don’t see water moccasins in our area so much,” Wilkerson said. “People are always talking about it, and it really is mostly a misconception.”

There are some varieties of water snakes that look similar to the cottonmouth or water moccasin but are not poisonous, which is what most people are seeing, Wilkerson said.

“We see copperhead bites the most, and luckily they are the least dangerous of the ones we have here,” Wilkerson said.

Pet owners who don’t actually see their animal get bitten by a snake may not immediately put all of the symptoms together and think “snakebite,” Shirley said. Bites are not always the first sign pet owners will notice, especially if the animal has longer hair.

“Either the pet is lying around, has lowered energy, possibly some nausea, some throwing up. Possibly some trembling, and very possibly some problems in the area of the skin where the bite took place. The point is when you see any of that, it’s not that owners aren’t responsible, good people,” Shirley said. “But they may not put it together what is happening. They may think ‘Oh, he’s got an abscess on his foot, or he’s hurt his toe.’”

A pet owner who does see his or her animal attacked by a snake should immediately bring the animal to an emergency vet center, Wilkerson said.

“The best thing to do is just to keep them calm and get them somewhere where they can receive antivenin,” Wilkerson said. “A dog that gets bit by a venomous snake, you’ll see the fang marks, and the tissue starts to swell. It’s very painful, and the swelling is dramatic.”

Wilkerson also advises against using a tourniquet on the animal or administering Benadryl or any other antihistamine.

“I usually do not use Benadryl or any other type of antihistamine with them because the antivenin does a better job, and the two are not to be used together,” Wilkerson said.

Shirley agrees that a tourniquet should not be used on an animal with a snakebite, but says there are instances where the use of an antihistamine like Benadryl is appropriate, depending on the type of antivenin. It can also be used to prevent and treat allergic reactions to antivenin.

Pet owners should call their veterinarians to find out what the proper protocol is.

All 21 dogs treated with antivenin last year at OVS lived, according to their records.

“[Antivenin] is the gold standard, so that’s what’s recommended. It really does a good job,” Wilkerson said.

Crotalidae polyvalent antivenin is most commonly used in this part of the country and is what both OVS and the Animal Emergency Center keep on hand. A general practice veterinarian may or may not keep antivenin on the shelves.

Russell, Deacon’s owner, knows he is one lucky dog and has this message for pet owners who may be facing the same situation:

“If you have a dog bitten by a snake, and you are unsure if it is a venomous snake, don’t hesitate to seek veterinary care,” Russell said. “Don’t even waste time on first aid. Just stabilize and transport.”