While an 11-year study by the Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital of the University of California at Davis documented the treatment of six cats, 15 horses, a parrot, a sheep, a goat and three llamas for venomous snakebite, documented treatments for dogs tallied more than twice the sum of all others. While bites from venomous snakes are serious, modern veterinary techniques greatly improve the prognosis for pets who are promptly treated.
Researchers estimate that pit vipers -- cottonmouths, copperheads and rattlesnakes -- deliver 99 percent of all venomous snakebites to domestic animals in the United States. The preferred aquatic habitat of cottonmouths reduces the number of encounters they have with dogs, but rattlesnakes and copperheads frequently cross paths with man’s best friend. Copperheads are small, with relatively mild venom and temperaments; rattlesnakes are typically larger, more likely to bite and possessing more potent venom than their copperhead cousins. Accordingly, researchers and veterinarians concentrate on the treatment of rattlesnake bites.
It's not unusual for a dog to receive a bite from a venomous snake while his owner is not present. Common signs of a venomous snakebite include pain, swelling and one or two small puncture wounds that may or may not bleed. Snakes usually bite a dog in the head, neck or extremities, so check those areas thoroughly. Other symptoms sometimes present include lethargy, depression, excitation, drooping eyelids, drooling and vomiting. Because dogs may not exhibit symptoms until several hours after a bite, and treatment may only be possible for a short window of time, it is imperative to contact your veterinarian immediately if your dog exhibits symptoms associated with snakebite.
If you witness a venomous snake bite your dog, carry your furry friend to the car and go directly to the animal hospital. Call the veterinarian and let staff know you are on your way, so they can prepare for your arrival. Do not apply ice, tourniquets, compression bandages or suction -- these treatments do more harm than good. Upon arrival at the hospital, the veterinarian will examine your pet, check his vitals and possibly begin administering fluids and pain medication.
Antivenin is medication that counteracts venom. It's made by injecting a small amount of venom in a very large animal -- typically a horse, something big enough to not succumb from the venom. The animal’s body begins to produce antibodies to counteract the venom. Scientists remove some of these antibodies from the animal and inject them into an snake-bitten human or dog, which then prompts your dog’s body to produce an immune response to the venom. Armed with the biological means to fight the venom, the patient usually improves greatly. In the University of California at Davis study, all dogs treated with antivenin improved. But antivenin is not a guaranteed cure. Dogs do die from serious bites. Allergic reactions to antivenin can occur, so your veterinarian may perform a sensitivity test before administering it intravenously.
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