This is a beautiful time of the year in the South; the dogwoods are blooming, and the temperatures are just right to start getting outside. As you're out enjoying the start of a new season and soaking up the sun's glow, you hear that unfamiliar sound that sends shivers down your spine… the rattling buzz of a diamondback on high-alert.
As the days get warmer and longer, people and their dogs are spending a lot more time outdoors, which results in a higher likelihood of an encounter with a snake. An increase in hospitalization due to snake bites is usually seen from April to September when snakes are most active. Snake season is upon us, and you need to be prepared.
To keep things simple, let’s focus on the two types of poisonous snakes in North America: pit vipers and coral snakes. Pit viper is a broad-reaching term that encompasses rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths (water moccasins). This family of snakes is by far the more common cause of envenomation in North America. The inverse is true for coral snakes. It’s rare to have a confirmed case of coral snake envenomation in North America, so let’s focus on pit vipers.
A pit viper envenomation causes a myriad of medical issues that require hospitalization and focused care. Most snake bites occur to the head, neck, or extremities and the signs start to appear within 30 to 60 minutes. The venom causes the cells of the body to rupture leading to swelling, edema, and necrosis. Next come blood pressure issues, bleeding disorders, platelet dysfunction, and sometimes kidney failure. The Mojave rattlesnake in the American southwest can cause all of the previously mentioned clinical signs, in addition to paralysis because its venom also contains a potent neurotoxin. Although the envenomation is not totally reversible, the life-threatening conditions associated with a poisonous snake bite can usually be averted with appropriate veterinary care.
If you suspect or have confirmed a snake envenomation, the dog needs immediate veterinary care, especially a dog that sustained a bite to the neck or face because swelling can develop rapidly. As is the case in all medical emergencies, assess the dog’s airway, breathing, and circulation. Contrary to the movies, sucking out venom is NOT recommended. It doesn’t change the severity of the bite, and it can negatively affect you in the process. The duration of hospitalization depends on numerous factors, including the severity of envenomation, location of the bite, and response to treatment. If you’re lucky, the snake bite will be a “dry bite”, and the dog will be discharged from the veterinary clinic much faster after a short period of monitoring.
About Dr. Dan
Dr. Dan Caldwell is the owner and lead veterinarian at MAC Animal Clinic in Auburn, Alabama. He has received numerous awards, including accolades for surgery, internal medicine, and public health. After graduating third in his class, he spent time in emergency medicine before transitioning to a position as the lead veterinarian at a clinic near Birmingham, Alabama. Dr. Caldwell and his family eventually decided they wanted to raise their family in Auburn, so they charted their course to opening MAC Animal Clinic in 2017.