Thousands of pets are bitten in the US each year by venomous snakes and the majority of these are pit vipers which include copperheads, water moccasins, and rattlesnakes. In Athens, Georgia, we have no shortage of all three. Although rattlesnakes appear to be the most dangerous of the group, any snake bite should be considered a medical emergency. It is also interesting to note that the smaller, young snakes appear to be capable of producing a more serious bite than their older family members because they have yet to learn how to control their venom and may release the entire supply at one time.
The bite of most pit vipers is “hemotoxic”, meaning that the venom disrupts the integrity of the blood vessels. Dramatic swelling. blood loss, and uncontrolled bleeding underneath the skin into the tissues surrounding the bite can quickly lead to a severe drop in blood pressure, shock and death. Here are a few tips on what to do in the event your pet has been bitten:
- Remain Calm
- Be Safe. Know that this is very painful for your pet and he/she may be inclined to bite anyone who is trying to handle them.
- If the bite is on the leg or the foot, wash the bite with clean water and mild soap.
- Immobilize the bitten area and try to keep it lower than the heart.
- Seek veterinary help immediately, even if you do not know what kind of snake it was.
- Call the emergency vet to let them know you are coming so they can prepare for your arrival.
- Remove any collars before the swelling begins, especially for bites on the head, face or neck.
Blood tests including clotting times are strongly recommended and an in-hospital stay to have IV fluids, pain medications and antibiotics is always a good idea. In severe cases, antivenin is recommended (for dogs only) to combat the toxic effects of the venom.
Aspirin and other NSAIDs are not recommended for an animal suffering from a snake bite, but opiate pain medications are needed, as are systemic antibiotics for secondary bacterial infection.
Animal Wellness Center of Athens offers MLS cold laser which has proven to be an extraordinary addition to our treatment of snake bites. One to three treatments is usually all that is required to eliminate swelling, pain and bruising at the bite site.