Mountain Emergency Animal Center – snake bites and pet safety

Community

It’s warming up! If you are enjoying the warmer weather now, so are the snakes! As a matter of fact, while driving home, a Garter Snake slithered in front of my car while at a stop sign. Some of my neighbors have told me that they’ve seen Copperheads about.

Venomous snakes injure over 150,000 dogs and cats every year in the U.S. This data is about 10 years old! So, you can only imagine as we continue to encroach upon their territory, there are going to be more exposures. In our area, the Copperhead is the most common venomous snake; however, there are also Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes, Timber Rattlesnakes, Cotton Mouths, Pigmy Rattlesnakes and Coral Snakes in Georgia. In north Georgia, the Timber Rattlesnake and Copperhead are most commonly the cause of envenomation in pets and people. Rattlesnake venom is much more potent and deadly than that of the Copperhead. All of the snakes listed with the exception of the Coral Snake are Pit Vipers, which belong to the family Crotalidae. Pit Vipers have triangular heads, elliptical pupils and “pits” or scent glands where there “nose” is (pic. #1).  Image may contain: text

Pit Vipers in Georgia:

Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake (pic. #2) 
Copperhead (pic. #3)
Timber Rattlesnake (pic. #4)
Cottonmouth/Water Moccasin (pic. #5)

 

 

 

Pit Viper venom contains over 50 enzymes, which damage tissue. The snake uses the venom to immobilize their prey and pre-digest the tissue. Basically, these snakes cannot digest food that well in their gut, so venom breaks down the muscle, the connective tissue and the blood before they ingest it. So, the same thing happens when a dog or cat is bitten. The venom starts to digest the tissue and causes the blood to not clot.
Bites to pets most often occur on their face and front legs. Most owners will say they saw their dog digging after something and then hear a loud “yelp.” Soon after being bitten the area becomes swollen, bruised and very painful.

Signs your pet has been bitten by a venomous snake may include:
• Rapid swelling at the site of the bite;
• Severe pain;
• Bleeding from the fang punctures;
• Drooling;
• Discoloration of the skin to dark red or purple;
• Bite marks—these may be difficult to see because the pet’s fur;
• Rapid breathing;
• Weakness;
• Collapse (inability to get up); and
• Pale gums.

What to do if your pet is bitten:
• Limit your pet’s activity and keep your pet calm. This will help decrease the venom from circulating throughout the body. The more activity, the more blood flow and faster the heart beats, increasing the amount of venom spread in the body.; and
• Contact your family veterinarian immediately or an emergency veterinary hospital such as MEAC.

What NOT to do if your pet is bitten:
• Do not place a tourniquet above the bite;
• Do not cut over the wound;
• Do not try to “suck” the venom out of the area;
• Do not apply ice to the area;
• Do not apply electrical shock to the area; and
• Do not give any medications.

Typical testing and treatment performed:
• Blood tests to check cell counts, blood clotting ability (coagulation times), organ function tests of the liver and kidneys;
• X-rays of the chest if the pet is having trouble breathing or congestion in the lungs;
• Pain medication;
• Cleaning of wounds;
• Intravenous fluids for shock and blood loss;
• Antivenin administration—this is the best treatment and acts as an antidote to the venom;
• Supplemental oxygen;
• Plasma and sometimes blood transfusion; and
• Hospitalization and observation.

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