Archive for Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pet Talk: Venomous snakes danger to pets, horses, livestock

July 2, 2009

We recently got an excited phone call from a client concerning her schnauzer, which went something like this: “I don’t know what happened to Chipper. He just came screaming in from the back yard and won’t put any weight on his back leg or even let me touch it.”

Thinking the dog had been in some kind of accident, my assistant urged them to come in immediately. I, too figured, it was a break, sprain or strain, but I’ve been a vet long enough not to diagnosis by phone.

When the dog arrived with a very concerned owner, it was evident this patient pegged the pain suffering level at 10. We wouldn’t be able to touch the leg, much less examine, it before we sedated the dog so that we could inspect the leg and get X-rays.

The X-rays revealed there was no fracture. I was confused and frustrated about what was causing the dog such obvious pain. And then, before our eyes the skin over the painful site turned black in what was the most rapid process of necrosis (tissue death) I’d ever seen in 30 years of practice.

With that, the diagnosis came to me: Snake bite, or more specifically, a rattlesnake bite.

Treatment for pain, swelling, shock and infection were started rapidly, while our patient snoozed. Although anti-venom is available for dogs as well as humans, most dogs survive without it. Even so, I called an anti-venom specialist and emergency center in Overland Park to speak to Dr. Jeff Dennis, who confirmed anti-venom wasn’t the treatment protocol in most cases.

We continued to watch Chipper and sent him home later in the day. He is doing fine and his skin is slowly healing.

A few days ago, I received a call from a client whose horse had swelling on its throat-latch. The area was also painful and oozing puss. The skin was also in various stages of necrosis. Upon examination, two puncture sites were seen. It was apparent the horse had been bitten by a venomous snake while grazing. A treatment similar to that used on the dog was started, and the horse is doing well, having walled off the bite area sufficiently.

I began to wonder about the two snakebites in such a short period of time. Was it a coincidence or had recent rains flushed the snakes from their usual niches? Obviously, this time of year snakes are moving about. Snakes bite out of self-defense or when surprised. Animals are curious and can’t be counted on to avoid snakes. A few years ago, we saw a dog start to eat a copperhead he found in the kennel, which resulted in multiple bites to the inside of his mouth. It was bitten so often and severely, it died in a few days despite our best efforts.

As pet owners, we need to be vigilant to help our dogs avoid snakes in the warm-weather months.

However, if you do suspect a venomous snake has bitten your dog, immobilize your pet immediately and get veterinary care remembering time is of the essence. Don’t apply a tourniquet or incise the wound to suck out the venom. If you plan to bring a dead snake in for identification, store the body in a rigid container. Remember, a dead rattlesnake can bite up to 30 minutes after its death — even if decapitated.

My wife has cousins who are ranchers in the Oklahoma panhandle. Once when visiting, I asked why they didn’t use horses for roundups or general ranch work. “Too many rattlesnakes,” they answered. Four-wheelers and ATVs have taken the place of the horse and spared the ranchers many trips to the vet.

Man can generally live in harmony with snakes, except when we cross their territory or get so close they become defensive. Safeguard your pets, livestock or horses this year by remembering where those snakes might be when they might be present.

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