Last month, Shania was out in the backyard playing with Sephy. All of a sudden, there were piercing Shiba warning cries. When Sephy alerts in this fashion, something is usually up, so we quickly went to investigate.
We found a rattlesnake under one of the bushes!
I quickly got Shania inside, and Sephy distracted the snake with his Shiba war-cries while my partner killed the snake with a shovel.
It was too late though, because Shania had already gotten bitten by the snake.
Signs of a snake bite -
- She rubbed her muzzle in the grass a few times, which is usually an indication that there is discomfort on her face.
- She occasionally tried to paw at her face.
- She came inside, and went to hide in the corner. She does this when she is really not feeling well.
- There was some slight swelling on her face. At this point, the bite site was not visible.
We put the dead rattler in a bag and rushed Shania to the emergency room.
When our dog gets bitten by a rattlesnake –
- Do not panic. Stay calm and keep our dog calm. Stress and activity will cause the poison to move through her system more quickly.
- Even if we just suspect that it is a rattlesnake bite, take our dog to the vet or emergency room as soon as possible. I made the mistake of calling the emergency room first, and the silly receptionist said, “It can’t be a rattlesnake. Dogs that get bitten by a rattlesnake immediately keel over and die.” This was of course nonsense (more later on the different poisons and what can cause death). Only listen to the vet.
- If possible, it is a good idea to bring the snake to the vet because then, they will know exactly what type of bite they are dealing with. The vet tech at the reception desk refused to believe that Shania was bitten by a rattlesnake until she saw the snake in the bag. Then they admitted us in right away.
Dog Rattlesnake Bites
Some things I learned from the vet about rattlesnake bites-
- The severity of the bite depends on how much poison the snake released, and on the size of the dog. Smaller dogs are at greater risk.
- There are generally two types of rattlesnake venom. The vet said that the snakes in our area have the more wimpy venom. According to Wikipedia the wimpy poison is classified as Venom B, and the bad-ass poison is classified as Venom A.
- Mojave toxin is a powerful neurotoxin. As such, it can cause severe neurological degradation which can lead to …
“vision abnormalities and difficulty swallowing and speaking.”
“Death, when it does occur, is the result of respiratory failure. … the highly dangerous venom containing Mojave toxin is present in C.s. scutulatus populations inhabiting southern California, southwestern Utah, southeastern Nevada, parts of western and southern Arizona, and the Big Ben region of Texas.”
~~[Texas Snakes:Identification,Distribution,and Natural History]
Their potent venom is the result of a presynapticneurotoxin composed of two distinct peptide subunits. The basic subunit (a phospholipase A2) is mildly toxic and apparently rather common in North American rattlesnake venoms. The less common acidic subunit is not toxic by itself but, in combination with the basic subunit, produces the potent neurotoxin called “Mojave toxin.”. … Venom A bite from Mojave rattlesnakes is more than ten times as toxic as Venom B, which lacks Mojave toxin.
- Heavy concentration of Venom B (wimpy poison) may inhibit blood from coagulating, which can cause an animal to bleed to death. The vet measured the percentage of blood cells affected by the poison to make sure that this was not a danger for Shania. She did this several times throughout the progression of the poison.
Treatment and Recovery
The vet at the emergency hospital decided not to give Shania anti-venom because she said that the anti-venom can sometimes cause complications and Shania, luckily, did not receive a large dose of poison.
Initially, they tested Shania’s blood to make sure that it was not overly affected by the poison. They also gave Shania a shot to dull the pain and discomfort.
Then, we stayed on for a couple of hours because the vet wanted to see if the bite site would show. She wanted to clean it properly so that there was no risk of infection. However, after two hours we still could not see the bite site, so the vet sent us home with some pain tablets. Our hope was that Shania could rest more comfortably at home.
At this time it was already close to midnight, so I stayed up with Shania to make sure things did not get worse. Sadly, her face continued to swell during the night, she could not sleep because of the pain, and she would not eat or drink. I called the vet several times during the night to check if we should bring Shania in again.
At around 2 in the morning, we brought Shania back. At the hospital, they can continue to monitor her blood cells, give her an IV drip, as well as morphine for the pain. She stayed at the hospital for over 2 days.
After about 1 day the bite site finally showed up, so they were able to shave the area and properly clean it.
After about 2 days, the swelling on her face started to recede and Shania was more alert and interested in food. We were so happy to hear this, and even happier to hear that we could bring her home!
- There is a canine rattlesnake vaccine produced by Red Rock Biologics. Here is a very useful article on the vaccine from UC Davis.
- Another informative article from UC Davis on prevention measures, what to do after a bite, what *not* to do, and treatment options at the vet.