Get to a veterinarian immediately!
When I treated a former co-worker’s dogs for rattlesnake bites, she had not even seen the snake bite the dogs. She went into the backyard and noted one dog was painful and had swelling around the face and neck. Because her house backed up to a greenbelt (a natural wooded area that is popular in San Antonio neighborhoods), she assumed a rattlesnake bite. And based on symptoms and the locale where the dogs lived, she was correct in her assessment.
The dog’s symptoms worsened in just the few minutes it took to arrive at the veterinary hospital. Prior to leaving home, her second dog showed no symptoms. After receiving emergency veterinary treatment, she returned home to find that her other dog had similar symptoms. So she returned to the veterinary hospital with her other dog where treatment commenced on that pet as well. After a short stint at the veterinary hospital, a few meds to go home, and some wound care, both dogs recovered and did just fine.
Not all rattlesnake bites result in envenomation. Many rattlesnake bites are “dry” bites and your dog does not get any venom injected into their skin, muscles, blood supply, and other body tissues. However, these “dry” bites are not without consequence. The mouth and fangs of a pit viper (for San Antonio veterinary patients that equals rattlesnake) are a cesspool of bacteria that drives deep into the tissues. The location and depth where the fangs penetrate affect the veterinary patient’s outcome as well.
Any pets that may have been bitten by a rattlesnake need rapid veterinary diagnosis and treatment. Most veterinarians agree on bloodwork to assess end-organ damage and to confirm if envenomation did indeed occur. I think all veterinarians agree on placing an IV catheter, administering IV fluids, sometimes shock treatment, and of course administering pain medications (these bites are usually extremely painful). The pendulum seems to swing on whether veterinarians should administer steroids and antibiotics. If the pet was indeed envenomated by the pit viper, then rattlesnake antivenin is generally advised. After discharge from the veterinary hospital, the pet’s human family may be managing wounds secondary to the tissue trauma caused by the puncture of the fangs as well as the bacteria and/or venom that the fangs dragged in.
The next question that comes up is the rattlesnake vaccine. Let’s discuss that in a future blog.
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