By LIZ BARNARD, Four Points News
Cooper, a Jack Russell Terrier, was bitten by a rattlesnake earlier this month, and the Barnard family of Steiner Ranch is thankful he has made a full recovery through quick and expert medical attention.
“Immediate veterinary care is first and foremost,” said Dr. Dawn James of Four Paws at Four Points.
The antivenin is more effective if given prior to development of clinical signs. The signs a pet will develop, survival rates, and treatments all depend on the type of snake, location of the bite on the pet, the amount of venom injected, age of snake and size of the patient envenomed, James said.
Survival rates in dogs that receive antivenin range from 72 percent to 83 percent. Treatments are based on supportive care of the pet.
“Antivenin to counteract the venom, pain management as these bites can be very painful, fluids to maintain good hydration and to flush the system, possibly antibiotics, and close monitoring of the pet,” according to James.
Another local vet, Dr. Tamera Cole of the Animal Hospital at Steiner Ranch, said 50 percent of all bites from venomous snakes are “dry” meaning that although there can be a localized reaction with pain and swelling, there was no venom injected.
“A lot of how the dog does depends on the amount of venom and reaction time,” Cole said.
Avoiding snake bites can be challenging. Not only do they camouflage well but can be hard to hear too.
“We are seeing a decline in the rattlesnake actually rattling, which has historically been a good clue that a rattlesnake is in the area,” James said.
“Snakes are seeking water due to the drought,” said Cole, “Rodents are seeking water and snakes hunt in the cool of the morning and evening.”
During the summer, snakes typically come out in the early morning and late evening when it is cooler. Rattlesnakes tend to be out more during the days during spring and fall, James said.
Cole adds, “Snakes are not typically aggressive and truly prefer to avoid you.”
Unlike people, pets don’t always avoid snakes.
“Dogs may be ‘protecting’ their home or just plain curious,” said James. At Four Paws, they typically see eight to 12 bites a year, and since the Barnard dog was bitten, have seen three more.
Vaccines that run around $20 are available for dogs, but there have been no venom challenge studies to see how effective the vaccine is.
“The bottom line: it may help reduce the reaction your pet has from certain species of snake venom,” James said.
Treatment plans can change if your dog has been bitten before or vaccinated, and there are many variables involved when deciding the course of care. The antivenin is very expensive and although pet insurance can be an option to help defer costs, James encourages pet owners to read the fine print before deciding on coverage.
Snake avoidance training is also an option, but success and many other factors, such as the breed and temperament of the dog can affect the way they respond. Pet owners should stay alert, especially during the cooler mornings and evenings and keep pets nearby where they can be watched carefully.
Cooper is Liz Barnard’s family pet.