With Summer right around the corner and temperatures warming up, its time to talk about a specific species of creatures in your yard that may inadvertently bite your pet: Snakes! Last Summer Heartwood Animal Hospital treated about half of a dozen dogs that were bitten by snakes between the months of May and September. This blog will focus on what to do(and not do) at home if your pet is bitten by a snake.
The majority of snakes in Wake Forest and Franklin County are non-venomous. However, venomous snakes including the copper head and cotton mouth (water moccasin) are in the area. Most dogs tend to be bitten on their face or front limbs, and the bite site will always be very painful regardless if it was from a poisonous snake. Localized swelling, puncture wounds from the fangs, and weakness are all signs that your pet may have been bitten by a snake. Identifying the snake is always helpful if you see the bite happen, but please do not risk your own safety to try and kill the snake or get a closer look. Research shows that over 80% of snake bites in humans occur from trying to handle or kill a snake. Please see the attached link on the bottom that has some information on how to tell if a snake is venomous or not along with how to avoid them in the water.
First aid and treatment for snake bites has changed dramatically over the last quarter of a century. Things you should NO LONGER do for a snake bite because this can cause worsening symptoms of a bite include:
1) DO NOT Apply ice to the wound
2) DO NOT Try to place a tourniquet around the affected limb
3) DO NOT try to “suck out the venom” (True Grit anyone?)
4) DO NOT make any cuts around the bite wound
Things you SHOULD DO if your pet is bitten by a snake
1) Contact your veterinarian and inform them what type of snake it may have been.
2) Keep your pet (and yourself!!!) as calm as possible. This includes do not continually do self examinations of the bite site as this is going to be very painful.
3) If the bite wound occurred on a limb, you may attempt to immobilize it with a splint.
4) Oral Benadryl (diphenhydramine) at a dose of 1mg/lb may be given once if you are unable to bring your pet to a veterinarian right away. If you are able to bring to a veterinarian right away I suggest waiting on this, as the hospital will most likely give a Benadryl injection which works much faster than the oral route.
All snake bites will cause local pain and swelling, but depending on the severity of the bite may also cause conditions including low blood pressure, kidney damage, and blood clotting disorders. Because of this, all dog and cats need to see a veterinarian immediately. Diagnostics including a complete blood cell count and blood chemistry should always be performed. Medications and treatments indicated may include antibiotics, steroids, antihistamines, intravenous fluids, and pain control. Anti-venom is no longer carried by most veterinary hospitals as this treatment has become controversial due to potential allergic reactions (along with very expensive). If a specialty/emergency hospital still does care the anti-venom, it is typically only effective if given within 4 hours of the bite. It is also important to know that some illnesses from a snake bite will not develop until a few days after the bite, therefore careful monitoring and repeating lab work is sometimes needed for the safety of your pet.
I personally think that snakes are an amazing creature and are very cool to see in nature. However, if you are lucky enough to see one in your ventures with the wilderness please take every caution necessary to enjoy this from a distance! For more information on snake bites and first aid on your pet, please join us at Heartwood Animal Hospital this Wednesday 5/25/16 at 5:30 pm for our first Pet Parents University seminar and open house.
Thank you and we can’t wait to see you,
Dr. James Murray