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Monday, May 18, 2009

Snake Bites

A week ago Saturday one of my regular patients came in for an emergency situation. Little Brandi is a 5-6 pound Yorkshire terrier, so she's not very big. Her owners witnessed her walk right up to a rather large snake, sniff at it, and receive a bite right on her muzzle. The husband quickly killed it and they were able to identify it as a copperhead, a common venomous snake in our area. They rushed her right up to me for treatment, and had her to me in a matter of minutes.

Right now most of you are probably thinking that a little dog like Brandi is lucky to have not been killed instantly. And that she probably needed life-saving hospitalization and treatment that cost the owners thousands of dollars. After all, a bite like that is pretty serious and usually fatal. Right?

Actually, that's pretty far from the truth. Believe it or not, venomous snake bites are rarely fatal. Sure, they will make the victim very sick and feel bad, but it takes a lot of venom to kill something larger than a small rodent. In North America people rarely die from a single bite from snakes like this, and the ones that do die usually fell into a nest and received numerous bites. The same situation applies to pets. A single bite from a copperhead, water moccasin, or even most rattlesnakes is rarely fatal.

When Brandi came in she had an obvious bite on her muzzle near her eye, and it was already a little swollen. I gave her injections for pain, inflammation, and an antihistamine, and sent her home with pain medications and antibiotics Over the next few days she became more bruised and had difficulty eating as the pain and swelling worsened. However, her owners were very careful with their care and watched her closely. Thought the first few days after the bite were rough, she pulled through without problems, and when I saw her this past Saturday she looked great.

Now don't misunderstand me. Snake bites can be serious, and some pets can have allergic reactions to the venom. Any person or pet who has been bit by a venomous snake should seek immediate medical care. However, I don't want people to worry that their pet will die. Brandi is actually the second Yorkie I have treated for a copperhead bite, and both did very well. If you get veterinary treatment, your pet should come through without any serious problems.