Sunday, August 15, 2010


Helpful Buckeye received more questions and comments following last week's discussion of Snake Bites than about any other subject we've dealt with here at Questions On Dogs and Cats.  Yet, many of our respondents haven't ever seen a poisonous snake themselves or had their pet ever exposed to one.  I guess the topic of snakes and their bites is something that will always draw attention...people don't ever want to experience it but they will always be interested in reading about it.  Most of our readers said they really liked this picture as a lead illustration:

Since most of you had such a good time reading last week's issue, you should really enjoy SNAKE BITES, PT. 2.

Only half of our readers report that they live in an area that has poisonous snakes.  Furthermore, only 10% of our readers have ever had a pet be bitten by a poisonous snake.  On the question of feeding your dog any of the 10 acceptable "human" foods, about 95% of respondents said "Yes," they have.  Be sure to answer this week's poll questions in the column to the left.


1) It appears that many cities nationwide are becoming more interested in making their animal control laws more representative of current problems related to pets.  The latest city to begin this debate is El Paso, TX.  Read about some of their proposals at:

Since this news item reference comes from the American Kennel Club web site, you can understand why the AKC frowns on this type of legislation.  However, Helpful Buckeye encourages all of our readers to look at this problem with as much objectivity as possible before making up your minds.

2) A recent recall by Merrick Pet Care, Inc. has been extended to "also include 83 cases of 'Texas Hold'ems' (ITEM # 60016 LOT # 10127 Best by May 6, 2012) due to potential Salmonella contamination.

The latest addition to the recall are sold in 10-oz plastic bags marked with 'Lot # 10127 Best By May 6, 2012' on the top of the bag and on a sticker applied to the bottom."

This reference comes from the American Animal Hospital Association:

Helpful Buckeye will address the topic of Salmonella contamination and pet food in an upcoming issue.


Now that our readers have a better idea of how to identify poisonous snakes from their non-poisonous relatives, it's time to find out what to do about the actual snake bites.  Before getting into our discussion, take a few seconds to watch this video of a rattlesnake striking at a person's booted foot (you can even see the venom running down the boot!):

Remember that this video was in slow motion!  A snake bite is over almost before it's even begun.

Since most snake bites in the USA are from Crotalids (copperheads, cottonmouths, and rattlesnakes) and relatively few come from the Elapids (coral snake), most of this information will be geared toward the bites of a Crotalid.  Important differences related to coral snakes will be mentioned at the appropriate time.

What To Watch For

A common scenario is a pet that is in the woods, near a thick grassed area or by a wood pile that suddenly cries out after which you notice a swelling on the legs or muzzle.

Other signs include:

• Rapid swelling at the site of the bite
• Intense pain
• Oozing blood
• Fang marks (can be difficult to identify in some animals, especially those with long or matted hair)
• Drooling
• Rapid breathing
• Dilated pupils
• Pale gums
• Weakness
• Collapse

Tissue swelling is often worse 24 to 48 hours after the bite. Wound may drain and bleed for several days. Most snake bites require veterinary care.

Signs from a coral snake bite:

• Drooling
• Vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Weakness
• Disorientation
• Paralysis
• Breathing difficulty
• Vomiting

There is typically little swelling in the area of the bite.  This is partly due to the short teeth involved in the bite as well as to the nature of the venom not being so destructive around the site of the bite.


Diagnosis is based on physical exam findings supportive of a recent venomous snake bite as well as the potential exposure to venomous snakes.  Blood work may be done to evaluate coagulation times on a blood sample taken from an affected animal. Prolonged clotting times can indicate exposure to pit viper venom.  For a coral snake bite, it really helps if the bite was witnessed and the snake can be identified.  For a "suspected" (but not witnessed) coral snake bite, a diagnosis would have to be based on the findings of a physical exam and the knowledge that the pet was in a coral snake area.


With rapid treatment, most pets with Crotalidae snakebites recover. Treatment varies depending on which species of snake was responsible for the bite, the signs of toxicity displayed by the pet, and where on the pet's body the bite occurred.

• Antivenin (polyvalent Crotalidae) is available and recommended for rattlesnake bites. Antivenin is a product created from antibodies produced by an animal purposely exposed to snake venom. It helps to counteract the venom on the pet's system. It is a human product and availability may be limited in certain geographic areas. It can also be very expensive ($300 to $400 per vial with each pet needed 1 to 3 vials) and may cause allergic reactions in some pets. For this reasons, pets are hospitalized and closely monitored.
• For copperhead bites, antivenin is generally not recommended and rarely needed.
• Diphenhydramine (antihistamine) is typically given to reduce some signs of allergic reaction associated with the snakebite.
• If the bite occurs in the area of the throat, airway support may be needed, including a temporary tracheotomy or ventilator.
• Hospitalization with continuous intravenous fluids may be recommended in severe cases.
• Treatment for pain and infection is also important.

Animals bitten by a coral snake should receive intensive treatment as soon as possible because irreversible effects of venom begin immediately after envenomization. Recovery is expected if rapidly treated by a veterinarian.

• There is an antivenin available for Elapid envenomization but access may be limited in certain areas.
• Hospitalization with continuous intravenous fluids is generally recommended.
• Atropine may be used to counteract some of the effects of the venom on the nervous system.
• If the venom affects the respiratory system, respiratory support with a ventilator may be necessary.

Home Care

• After a venomous snakebite, DO NOT use a tourniquet. This will affect the circulation to the area significantly and may result in serious tissue damage.
DO NOT try to suck the venom out of the bite. Human saliva contains many bacteria and may result in severe infection.
• The most helpful and important thing to do is to limit your pet's activity severely after the snakebite. The quieter and calmer he/she is, the less effect the venom will have while you are on the way to your veterinary hospital.
• Rapid treatment by a veterinarian is also strongly recommended.
• After treatment for a Crotalid snakebite, you may notice oozing from the bite site for several days. The swelling in the area of the bite may take up to a week to subside.

Preventative Care

The best way to prevent Crotalid and Elapid snakebites is to restrict access to those infested areas. Snakes prefer to live in quiet and dark areas, and woodpiles are popular nesting sites.  If a venomous snake bites your pet, it is unlikely that the pet will learn from the experience and it probably won't voluntarily avoid snakes in the future. Future venomous snakebites may result in much more severe toxic signs and might even result in death.

If you've never seen what a snake bite can do to a dog, look at these photos, which document approximately 14-19 days after the bite:
Here's another before and after comparison of a dog that got bitten by a rattler on the face: 

A woman in the Phoenix area feels that her dog saved her from being bitten by a rattler, while the dog itself got bitten: 

As you read in the last reference, there is a rattlesnake vaccine available for dogs.  Here is a list of frequently asked questions about the vaccine provided by one of the companies that makes it: 

If you live in an area that is known to have rattlesnakes, you should discuss with your veterinarian the advisability of having your dog vaccinated.

Portions of this discussion were adapted from


After reading the above information on the treatment of snake bites, it's easy to see how that could add up to a hefty expense for any pet owner.  Situations like snake bite treatment usually bring to mind the question, "Should I consider getting pet insurance for my dog and/or cat?"

Pet insurance is gradually increasing in popularity in the USA and, for many situations, it has allowed pet owners to go ahead with a treatment plan that would have otherwise been prohibitively expensive. 

The humanization of pets and the increased costs of veterinary care have sparked a burgeoning industry: pet health care.  Typically, pet owners pay a monthly premium. As their pet needs veterinary services, they pay the bills upfront and then submit them for reimbursement. Some plans cover what in human terms are considered "well visits," including vaccinations and checkups. But many cover only costs associated with a pet's illness.

The economic downturn has resulted in cost-conscious consumers forced to tighten their money belts to make ends meet.  But while they've curbed their spending when it comes to purchases and services for themselves, pampering and caring for their beloved pets is still a top priority. Hence, the increasing popularity of pet health insurance and veterinary discount plans - proof that where consumers' pets are concerned, money is no object (most of the time).

Check out these recent articles on pet insurance:  and 

Helpful Buckeye has addressed the topic of pet health insurance in several past issues, but this reference covers the basic considerations for a prospective buyer: 


Most of the products described in this section have some practical use or benefit for a pet owner and/or their pets.  Every once in a while though, a product leaves you scratching your head and asking, "Why?"  This, perhaps, is one of those times.  Check out these $500 outfits for cats and decide for yourself:  


1) Sunset Magazine has published a list of "Dog-Friendly Trips" in the western states: 

Desperado and Helpful Buckeye have been to several of these locations and they are great spots to visit whether or not you have a canine friend along with you.  We look forward to the Cannon Beach, Oregon location...probably next year!

2) Many of our readers have written about their dogs loving to roll in anything that smells terrible. provides this possible explanation for a seemingly despicable habit:

You work like a dog to get your own canine clean and smelling pretty, and how does he repay you? By running to the first pile of poop he can find and rolling in it.  Or, you're both walking along a pretty nature trail, enjoying the sweet breeze, when your dog spots a dead animal. He immediately dives his body into the unpleasant mass of decaying odors.

Why on earth do dogs enjoy this? The answer is simple: it's an instinct. If your dog could talk, he probably wouldn't be able to tell you exactly why he does it, either. No one is sure what the attraction is, but there are three working hypotheses.

One is that dogs are attempting to mask their own scent. This would be a holdover from their origins as wolves. Masking their scent may help wolves sneak up on prey without alerting them by way of smell.

A second theory is that rolling in feces or a dead animal's remains is a way for a dog to communicate that he's found something interesting.  The dog (or wolf) then transports that smell back to his family (his pack) in order to advertise his discovery.

A third theory is set forth in the book The Truth About Dogs, by Stephen Budiansky. It is possible, Budiansky writes, that we've gotten it backwards. The dog may not be trying to absorb the scent; instead he may be trying to impart his own scent onto the object of his interest, for the same reason that a dog may urinate on a tree. The purpose may be no more than to leave a calling card – to overmark a another scent.

3) Many companies in the USA are starting to allow their employees to bring their pets to work.  Find out more about this trend, by listening to this short podcast from the American Veterinary Medical Association: 
4) Many of our readers live in smaller apartments or condos that just don't provide enough room for some of the larger breeds of dogs to live comfortably.  Here are some interesting suggestions for "smaller" dog options: 
Of course, not all small breeds were may have had a great experience with other small breeds.  If so, send an e-mail to Helpful Buckeye and let us know: 
Helpful Buckeye went to another AZ Cardinals' practice session this past week.  The team, in general, is looking pretty good...although, HB still feels that Matt Leinart is not going to be the QB the Cardinals thought he would be.  Both the Cardinals and Steelers won their first pre-season games, which means...absolutely nothing!

Helpful Buckeye had a really nice bike ride this past week.  I rode out to Mormon Lake and back home again...a total of 56 miles.  It was an exhilarating experience, biking through a lot of beautiful scenery.  Desperado greeted me with flourish as I rode back into our driveway...confirming what we already knew...Life is good!  Desperado took me to the Piano Room for some good music and a light dinner, followed by one of my favorite oatmeal cookie at Barnes & Noble. All I could say was, "We celebratin' or what?"

A good friend sent some interesting and thought-provoking quotes this week.  I'll share this one: "The best vitamin for making good friends..... B1."  Think about'll figure it out.

Desperado and Helpful Buckeye went to a presentation Saturday evening by a local interpretive specialist for the US Forest Service and National Park Service that provided an overview of the recent devastating Schultz Fire here in Flagstaff.  Steve Hirst described the conditions that led to this "perfect storm" of a wildfire and showed a lot of new photos of the aftereffects of the fire and subsequent floods.  What a loss for our area!

Last night, we went to another concert by the mini-Flagstaff Symphony Orchestra brass quintet outdoors at Lowell Observatory (for those of you not familiar with Flagstaff, this is where the planet Pluto was discovered).  This concert was a lot of fun...we even knew most of the tunes!

~~The goal of this blog is to provide general information and advice to help you be a better pet owner and to have a more rewarding relationship with your pet. This blog does not intend to replace the professional one-on-one care your pet receives from a practicing veterinarian. When in doubt about your pet's health, always visit a veterinarian.~~

1 comment:

  1. Mormon lake last week...Stillwater/Lake Blackwell
    next week, now that would be a RIDE. U get around (maybe we should write a song about that :^) Must say I'm glad the snake coverage is over since I don't even like the 'word'! But you did an excellent job of coverage and of getting me excited.
    Now time for a series on insects....that kind of rolls off your tongue.