Keeping Pets Safe
While you’re enjoying park hikes and trips to the beach, don’t forget that we’re not the only ones out and about in the summer. Snakes tend to be more active in the warmer months, resting in dark, cool spots or hunting for food at dawn or dusk to avoid the heat.
While most local snakes are not venomous, it is wise to encourage your pets to ignore or avoid them on the off chance they do come across a dangerous species.
Angela Jones, Georgetown’s animal control supervisor, recommends owners don’t take home safety for granted. “Always have a quick check of the porch and surrounding areas rather than just opening the door, particularly in the evening when they are soaking up sun energy to get them through the night. Keep an eye on wood or rock piles, shady areas, or condensation drips.”
THE HELPFUL ONES
According to Joe Plunkett, a Sun City snake wrangler, we should also remember to be nice to the ”good” snakes in our area. Rat, bull, brown, and earth snakes are beneficial and help control our rodent and pest population. Fewer rats and mice can help your dog avoid contracting
leptospirosis, a bacterium that can be spread to people.
Most venomous snakes in Central Texas are pit vipers, which is a focus for avoidance education. Fred Reyna, owner and trainer at Texas Snake Avoidance says, “Rattlers, copperheads, and water moccasins are beneficial in nature; they are only a problem if they bite us. A baby rattler’s venom is most potent until it is about three months old, but an older snake has more volume and either of them will unload everything they have in order to survive.”
If, despite your best efforts to avoid common habitats, you encounter a snake with your dog, it is best to keep your pet under control and walk away. He adds that snakes are primarily defensive and will not chase a dog or a human so simply steering clear is key to bite prevention. “Most snakes are just trying to survive and will leave on their own, or you can gently spray the critter with a hose until he moves away.”
To maximize safety for your pet, Fred says, “Dogs can be taught to avoid snakes and perhaps just need a refresher now and then. We adapt dogs for avoidance using live snakes but, on your own, owners can also work on training their dog to return when called even when excited about another animal.”
Fred travels the state to help pet owners and will arrange one-day classes to help educate dog-loving community groups like HOAs, rescues, vet clinics, etc. Contact him via Facebook/Texas-Snake-Avoidance.
AFTER A BITE
Joe cautions, “The main thing after a bite is to keep your dog calm. There is no home treatment for a venomous snakebite. Suction kits and tourniquets should not be used, and NSAIDs (ibuprofen) may increase bleeding. Benadryl and antibiotics will also not help as venom is not a histamine. Just get to a vet quickly.” Fred adds it is not necessary to identify the snake but do keep your pet calm and keep the bite site below heart level if you can.
He recommends anti-venom treatment at the vet. Joe adds, “Regular vets do not always stock anti-venom, but local emergency veterinary hospitals such as Central Texas Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Hospital in Round Rock generally do. Before transporting an animal that has been bitten by a rattlesnake, call ahead and make sure the vet hospital is able to provide appropriate treatment.”
HELPFUL LINKS AND ADDITIONAL REFERENCE (Courtesy Laura Plunkett)
Snake Avoidance Training for dogs: https://winterkennels.com/services/
Facebook groups staffed by medical experts who provide free information to the public.
National Veterinary Snakebite Support Facebook Page
National Snakebite Support Facebook Page
Rattlesnake Vaccine (not anti-venom treatment)
Dr. Spencer Greene, MD, MS, FACEP, FACMT, FAACT, FAAEM (https://bayoucitymedicaltoxicology.com/about-dr-greene/) is a board-certified medical toxicologist and emergency physician who consults with the public on human and animal envenomations and is one of the participating consultants for the above groups, says:
“People frequently ask about the rattlesnake vaccine for dogs, and sometimes they use the analogy of the rabies vaccine. I’d like to address this. (Admittedly, I don’t treat dogs. However, I treat lots of envenomations in humans, and I have a masters degree in immunology, so I’m not exactly lacking in credibility.)The idea behind a vaccine is to generate antibodies which can rapidly increase in number when the pathogen to which they are primed enters the body. The idea is that the antibodies can neutralize the pathogen before it has time to replicate sufficiently to cause serious toxicity. In an envenomation, all the toxic components enter the body at once, and the quantity is far greater than when someone gets infected with something. Venom goes to work fast, and there’s no way antibodies can respond quickly enough to neutralize the damage. This is why vaccines are ineffective against envenomations but are definitely useful against infections such as rabies and tetanus….”
Central Texas Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Hospital (CTVSEH) does not recommend the vaccine.
Bite Treatment: Snake bites most often occur on the mouth and legs of dogs. They can be small and hard to identify, but the wound will begin to quickly swell, bruise, and bleed a little. There will be significant pain, but the amount of venom released will determine the seriousness of the bite.
Snakebites are extremely painful, and the strongest possible pain medication should be administered.
Dr. Nick Brandehoff, MD, is board certified in emergency medicine, medical toxicology, and addiction medicine with a focus on envenomation research. He is Assistant Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine and on the faculty at the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center. He is also the President and Medical Director for the Asclepius Snakebite Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit, that focuses on improving snakebite education and management in West Africa and is the Medical Director for Snakebite Management Solutions. He is also a consultant for the National Snakebite Support Facebook group. (https://www.snakebitefoundation.org/blog/2019/7/3/benadryl-is-useless-for-treating-snakebites-dr-nick-brandehoff?fbclid=IwAR2QNhRkAaXjVKcjl9iP_vwMYd_Q7swEk2OJ8lvN-mGw62UCtnXbmAXW82o) Dr. Brandehoff says:
Benadryl is ineffective for treating a venomous snakebite, even as a temporizing measure in the back country, for the following reasons:
1) Pit viper envenomations in the US cause local tissue injury from direct venom effect. The cell death causes swelling and pain from the release of intracellular contents as the cell dies. Furthermore, venom causes blood vessels to become “leaky” resulting in further swelling, redness, and pain as fluid leaves our blood vessels and enter the tissues. Benadryl does nothing to negate these effects.
2) Systemic symptoms of envenomation are rare but may include nausea, vomiting, low blood pressure, swelling of the throat, bleeding, etc. These are also venom induced and are not reversed with Benadryl.
3) Allergic reactions can happen from a snakebite but are very rare and if there are systemic signs as discussed above, the acute treatment is epinephrine, not Benadryl (or steroids, etc). Benadryl and other drugs can be used in conjunction with epinephrine at the hospital to keep the allergic reaction from rebounding.
4) Comparing bee venom and snake venom to assume Benadryl will work is not congruent. Bee venom specially targets cells causing release of histamine which results in swelling, pain, redness, and allergic reactions. This is similar to the pathway for non-venom induced allergic reactions. Benadryl is a “antihistamine”, so the mechanism to stop the reaction makes Benadryl a good drug for this scenario. This is not the case for snake venoms, which work via different mechanisms.
In short, Benadryl is not effective for snake envenomations in humans or other animals… Antivenom along with proper supportive care are the only effective treatments supported by peer-reviewed literature.
The National Veterinary Snakebite Support group maintains this list of Vet Bill Funding Resources