Rattlesnake bites are generally much more severe than copperhead or cottonmouth bites. Cottonmouth envenomation generally does not cause as much tissue damage; however, infections can be severe at the bite sites. Coral snake envenomation is very uncommon, as these are very shy snakes. Coral snake envenomation, which, unlike that of other snakes native to North America, is neurotoxic, causing flaccid paralysis and respiratory failure. Pets injured by a coral snake require ventilator support, often for extended periods.
Scope of Injuries
The time of year and the aggressiveness of the bite are also factors. Patient size, location of the bite, species of snake, and nature of the bite should be considered when recommending treatment options.
Acute swelling, one or two puncture wounds, bleeding and pain at the site are the most common signs that a dog has been bitten. The face and extremities are the most typical sites.
Dogs tend to encounter rattlesnakes most commonly between April and October, when the warmer weather makes their exposure a more likely occurrence. However, cats are commonly more severely affected, due to their size and the fact they have likely toyed with the snake. When cats are bitten, the bite is often aggressive, and a large dose of venom is delivered relatively speaking.
Antivenin has been proven to improve the outcome in cases of moderate to severe envenomation. We recommend analgesics, IV fluids, broad spectrum antibiotics, and antivenin. Antivenin is recommended if the bite is to the face or neck, tissue damage is severe, pain is difficult to control, platelet count is low, or co-ag times are elevated. When antivenin is not in the pet owner’s budget, we treat with analgesics, IV fluids and antibiotics. Persistent elevation in clotting times, progressive tissue damage, and uncontrolled pain are indications for repeating antivenin administration.
Careful monitoring is critical in these cases. Severe swelling can lead to respiratory distress, tissue necrosis, and pain. Clotting problems can be fatal. We routinely monitor CBC and co-ags, measure progression of tissue damage, manage pain, support hydration, and provide nutritional support. We prepare our owners that there may be a hospital stay of one - two days for their pets, if signs are not severe.