I often lament as to how hot it is in Summer in Virginia. July can be a dangerous time outside for us and also for the animals. A fair segment of our farm is forested, and wooded areas and areas nearby these, come with their own hazards. Over the last twenty-five years we have had a lot of problems in July when it gets very hot both on this farm and on previous properties. In the nineteen-eighties, one July, two of our young children were playing outside the house and were swarmed by bees that were apparently nesting under a railroad tie we used to demarcate our driveway. An ambulance trip later, each child was treated at the hospital for between 10-20 stings each. To this day, they carry epi-pens should they be allergic to an additional sting. We have had several family members treated for Lyme Disease secondary to tick bites, also in July. Three years ago, one of our young adult labrador retrievers was weak in the legs one morning and we saw the vet quickly enough to have Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever diagnosed. The dog recovered fully following a full run of the appropriate antibiotic. Ten years ago, in late July our beloved Albert, a golden labrador retriever was found dead with yellow jackets found on him. The vet theorized that he died of anaphylaxis following being swarmed by yellow jackets which are particularly aggressive when it's very hot. I had checked him and changed his water not even an hour before we found him dead. This past year our elderly Siberian Husky was successfully treated for Erlichia, also a tick borne illness. As much as I try to minimize the inherent hazards of these lands, they still exist.
Within the last couple of weeks I reported on my Rational Preparedness blog that a black snake was seen hanging from the rafters in our main barn. I knew that wasn't a good omen, despite the fact that the snake itself is harmless.. This week, my eldest son killed two copperheads here on the farm, one large, and one smaller.. Normally, we ignore non-venomous snakes here. We kill copperheads if they are within the area of the house or the animal barns. Normally, the black snakes keep the copperheads in check, if just by eating them.
We are also careful never to wear open toed shoes or sandals outdoors here. In fact, anywhere near the forest, we wear boots. You should consider doing the same in forested areas.
Early this morning (Sunday) I went out to take care of dogs before caring for horses, then alpacas, then sheep, and ultimately some of the other animals who are my charges. We have a rather nice eight stall kennel for the dogs. It has a concrete floor which is cool for the dogs, and each stall has a tall fenced area outside where they can play, dig and go to the bathroom. There is also water and electricity inside. From there, the dogs rotate to other areas of the farm to watch alpacas, keep an eye on ducks or chickens, or herd a lamb when necessary. The dogs love to have a job, but they also like the mental stimulation of rotating to different places and having different jobs. I also enjoy taking them out to a new place and collecting them at night to bring them back to the kennel. Sometimes, when it's hot, most of the dogs, especially the older ones, just stay inside the kennel, content to drink the cool water in their buckets while listening to the radio while spread eagle on the concrete floor.
Sometimes, in the morning, I start by checking the kennel, changing any water buckets that have hair or dirt in them, and leaving the others until later in the day when cooler water would be most appreciated. Then we feed them. While they eat, I check each outdoor kennel area and clean and straighten the exterior kennel enclosures. This morning I noticed that Skye, a border collie, had diarrhea. I cleaned it up and looked at her. She seemed fine. I changed her water and fed her. I made a mental note that her having diarrhea was unusual and I decided to check her again later. At lunchtime, she seemed subdued, and she hadn't eaten anything. Still, in the heat, dogs often leave food until later, especially the dry food, which this particular dog prefers.
At four, when I often change the rest of the waters, move or return some dogs to the kennel, I noticed Skye was drooling. I vinyl gloved and went in to investigate. This time what was wrong became clearer. Skye was drooling heavily and her normally thin mouth and muzzle were broadly swollen.
My border collie now looked like a swollen pitbull ! Underneath the mouth and jaw, extending to the neck was extremely swollen and hard. On one side of the jaw there was what looked like a puncture wound with a slight tear. Not far from it, was an additional wound. There was another similar wound nearby indicating that she may have been bitten a second or third time. All the wounds were bleeding slightly. I texted both my husband and eldest son, simply "Kennel now". They came and confirmed what I thought it was. (I later read that on dogs, such bites can be very difficult to see, and severe swelling would be your first indication that something is wrong. Because our dog fought, the bites are accompanied by slight tears which made the bites themselves bleed more, and therefore they became easier for us to detect.)
Copperhead bites are one of the most common snakebites in dogs. Copperheads are fairly aggressive, striking out early in the interaction with dogs (and human beings as well. ) Fortunately, adult specimens strike out and bite often without injecting too much venom. Their strategy is to strike and repel the animal and then get away, keeping the rest of their venom for their prey. (Conversely, young or small copperheads may not yet know how to "ration" their venom and therefore they may envenomate using a much larger dose than a larger snake.) Consequently, most dogs survive a copperhead bite. (Small dogs, elderly or sick dogs would be among the highest risk not to.) Copperhead bites are extremely painful, and should receive veterinary attention. Pain, infection and loss of use can be real issues. Skye's wounds, the degree and location of the swelling, her diarrhea and subdued demeanor are all well documented with copperhead bites, and we do know that this week, we have seen copperheads here. We did not see evidence of neurological symptoms or of seizures, but these can happen also. We theorize that the copperhead must have entered the kennel enclosure where Skye lives. We saw no sign of it. We are confident that since Skye is up to date on all immunizations, that nothing else is going on.
Of course, it's four o'clock on a Sunday and the only vet who will trek out here on a Sunday night is an equine vet, who won't treat a dog. I need to provide competent first aid and conservative treatment to my poor dog until the morning when the small animal vet can be reached and Skye can see her. I have a number of good veterinary books and I verified some things online before moving ahead. First, I gave liquid Benadryl in order to calm any allergic component of the reaction and help with burning and itching. I had no injectable Benadryl (diphenhydramine) so I placed the child's liquid it in a feeding syringe and gently gave it in the side of her mouth on the side least swollen. She took it, and swallowed, and drank water. (Good, she will drink water !) I have flunixin injectable for alpacas for pain and fever, and in an emergency I would use it for another species with the dosage adjusted for species and dog weight, but my research indicated that this drug even in therapeutic doses for dogs, this drug can cause ulcers in the dogs stomach and intestines and so it is not recommended. (I am willing to try many things, but I am not willing to do harm.) Flunixin is therefore off the table for this. Instead, I decided to liquify aspirin in a little bit of water and give her a dose for her weight, also using my feeding syringe. Since copperhead venom can disrupt clotting, I will need to check carefully to make sure that the aspirin helps to relieve discomfort without causing excessive bleeding. She took that also. I tried to provide a soft treat but she wouldn't eat it. Last, I have a broad spectrum injectable antibiotic (Tylosin)*** in date and approved for dogs. I gave one intramuscular injection of the antibiotic which she barely noticed. (The dose was appropriate for her weight.) I repeated the dose the following day. This should be sufficient to help to decrease some of the swelling, manage the pain, and prevent infection, until a licensed vet can see her and treat this. I also moved her to the "sick kennel" I use for the dogs which isolates anyone who is ill. Meanwhile, my husband and eldest son searched Skye's normal kennel for a snake, with no luck.
By seven pm she was not drooling, and was drinking a fair amount of water. I have her some soft food which she promptly ate. She remains significantly swollen but resting comfortably. Her pain seems to be managed. By ten pm she was glad to see me and was appreciating the frequent visits with a tail that waved like a flag in July. I gave additional Benadryl and aspirin in the middle of the night in order to help her to make it to the vets visit tomorrow.
Very early this morning she remains very swollen. I washed the areas that were bloody or drooly with cool water and she seemed to enjoy this. I gave additional aspirin and Benadryl this morning. Then she ate a bowl of soft food. I kept her cool by giving her a "dog shower" gently outside.
I would normally take a dog to the vet for what I consider an emergent issue. We are a days drive from a veterinary critical care center, and I have dropped two to three thousand dollars there in the past for illnesses. I cannot afford to do that now without disrupting the ongoing care of all of the animals who reside here. So, since her pain is under control and her vital signs are quite good, she will have to be carefully cared for until I get get an ordinary vet appointment on a weekday.
Within a day, almost all of the swelling and firmness in the muzzle was gone. She is eating, drinking, urinating and defecating normally. I continued the Tylosin intramuscular injection for a total of three days, and I discontinued the aspirin after a day as there was bleeding from the the wounds even after a day. I have been continuing Benadryl calculated to the dog dose for her weight every six hours while she is awake. References indicate that we are not to apply ice, cut the region or try to suck out the venom on canines. We are also not to use a tourniquet, even just after the incident.
I still believe that a licensed veterinarian in the safest and best way to manage a canine snake injury. I did want to provide this information to those on a preparedness forum in the event that in a genuine emergency your dog is bitten and you, like me, did not have the option of an emergency run to a vet. Statistics indicate that more than 90% of dogs who are bitten by copperheads do survive, and that supportive care is important. Dogs can be not only important family members but can be personal and animal protection on farms. Rather than ending your dogs life, the plan of 1. Using Benadryl (Diphenhydramine) to address any allergic, burning or itching component of this injury and repeating it about every six hours 2. Providing short term broad spectrum antibiotics to avoid secondary infection. 3. Addressing pain with a dog appropriate preparation All proved to be good strategies in an emergency.
I have spoken to several farms locally and they all indicate that this year they have seen a larger than normal number of copperheads. It may be that this year we have conditions which simply have favored this particular snake. Watch carefully out there.
We plan to follow up with the veterinarian this week.
This is a post of mine on another one of my blogs which shows the kennel building where the snakebite occurred overnight:
This is an excellent video
UPDATE: By today, the following Friday morning, five full days from the snakebites themselves, all the swelling is gone. Multiple puncture wounds remain with one which also has a slight tear. These too are healing, but will need to continue to be monitored for infection. She remains on soft dog food for the time being, and is urinating and defecating normally. At this time, there appear to be no deficits.
ADDITIONAL UPDATE: The University of Virginia says that it has treated 19 incidents of human copperhead bites this season. This is a significant increase over the amount they would normally expect to see. All the human beings treated there have survived. They decline to speculate as to why there have been so many copperhead bites this year.
Our dog has made an apparent complete recovery, three weeks from the initial multiple bites.
*** Important Note: The injectable broad spectrum antibiotic Tylosin (Tylan) must NEVER be given to horses. To do so. may well be fatal. This drug is available in a couple of different strengths. Pay close attention to the dose guidelines and the weight of the animal to which you need to administer it. It must be administered intramuscularly. Whenever possible, consult with your farm vet before use.