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Rattlesnake Bites In Dogs And Cats

Most dogs, cats, and humans living in the Denver area will never encounter a rattlesnake. A majority of rattlesnake bites happen, not by accident, but because the snake was not allowed to escape, but rather was wrangled by a shovel or stick, sniffed at by a big wet nose, or swiped at by a fur clad paw.

A majority of rattlesnake bite victims survive, whether it be a dog, cat, or human, because they seek immediate medical attention. Most dogs are usually bitten on the nose and face because they want to sniff the snake, while cats are bitten on the paw because they want to swat at the snake. A bite is particularly serious if the dog or cat has been bitten in the eye, mouth, or ear area because of the concentration of blood vessels. Being bitten in the chest is also very serious because of the proximity to the heart and other vital organs.

Rattlesnakes have a distinctive triangular shape to their head with a noticeable neck.

They also have vertical pupils, whereas non-poisonous snakes have round pupils and a more streamline design between their head and body. With this said, if you or your pet gets bitten by a snake, don't try to identify it, allow it to get away! Snakes will strike again and again, which will make the situation worse if the snake is indeed poisonous. When in doubt, seek medical attention quickly. If the bite was from a poisonous snake, swelling will be fast and considerable. Remove anything from your animal that is close to the bite that will restrict circulation, like a collar or bandana. (This includes rings, bracelets, watches, clothing, and shoes for humans.)

Rattlesnakes can strike so fast that their movement is indiscernible to the human eye. A rattlesnake does not have to be coiled to strike. They can strike in any position, but if given enough of a warning they will coil, because this posture gives them the best striking distance. Often rattlesnakes strike first and rattle after, so do not rely on hearing them. Rattlesnakes are deaf, so if you hike, carry a stick and use it to announce your path by tapping it on the ground and poking it ahead of you in overgrown areas. Rattlesnakes are sensitive to vibrations and will get out of your way if you give them enough warning.

If your pet is bitten by a rattlesnake here are some do's and don'ts.

  • Get everyone away from the snake. It is difficult to identify a snake unless you are an expert. It is not necessary to know what kind of rattlesnake caused the bite.
  • Get medical help immediately. Animals with the highest mortality rate are small breed dogs and dogs who did not get medical attention right away. Call your vet en route, so the staff is prepared for you. (Cats survive bites surprising well with immediate medical attention.)
  • Keep the pet calm. If possible, carry the animal. The more activity, the more blood circulation, the faster the toxin will spread through the body.
  • DO NOT APPLY ICE. (Despite your reflex to treat the swelling, ice will aggravate the problem.)

Twenty-five percent of rattlesnake bites are dry, meaning they release no venom, but it is still prudent to seek medical attention. Do not consider baby rattlesnakes less of a threat. Baby rattlesnakes can release more venom than an adult because controlling the amount of venom they release is a skill they develop over time.

Your veterinarian may want to give your dog or cat Antivenin. It is very important to tell your veterinarian if you dog has received Antivenin before. A second dose of Antivenin carries a higher mortality rate than the snake bite. Antivenin is expensive and should be used in the most severe cases. Your pet will be put on intravenous fluids and perhaps anti-histamines.

Forewarned is forearmed. The best plan is to avoid snake bites all together by giving any snake the right of way. Keep your dog by your side when hiking and carry a staff for announcing your path ahead of you. Rattlesnake bites are serious, but 95% of pets survive. In fact, some hard headed dogs get bit several times a season because they just cannot learn to leave the snake alone. There is a vaccination against rattlesnake bites, but its use is limited because it is so new. Do not assume that no rattlesnakes live in your area, habitats change because of land development and fluctuations in rodent populations. Be aware and be safe; rattlesnakes are coming out of hibernation right now.

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