Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Copperhead Snake Bites in Dogs


                       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. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Reprise: Steps to Avoid Heat Exhaustion in Animals and Pets

                     This post first appeared on my blog Rational Preparedness, at the beginning of July, in 2012.
  Since it's timely, I am reprising it here:

                         We have raised animals of different varieties in the Southern United States for twenty-five years, and there are some general rules which apply here, and in many if not most places.   The first is that all animals need access to clean water 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  This may sound obvious, but I do still occasionally see people who fill their pets water indoors only when they feed that pet, and the dish runs dry between feedings.  There are a number of devices, one can buy to ensure a continuous supply of water for your pet, even if you are away for a day or two.

This auto-waterer is for sale for about $24.00 US.   There are many other varieties inclduing one which uses a two liter soda borrle your provide and only has the base.   This can be used indoors, or even outdoors in a shaded region.

 The nicest thing about such containers is that although they are primarily intended for dogs and cats, they can be used for ferrets, chickens, ducks and many other types of animals particularly because these are sold in a variety of sizes. They are also fairly durable.

            For larger animals, I use a smaller durable bucket.     For alpacas I use a large plastic bucket for this purpose, and for dogs, I use a smaller one.

This is a flat back Fortex brand bucket which I use for alpacas waters. 

I use these smaller flat back buckets for dog waters.  These collect easily, fill quickly, and are easily cleaned.  One can carry multiple buckets when changing waters for many.  You would be surprised as to how much water even a medium sized dog can drink on a really hot day.

            Our vet says that sometimes, purchasing a large bag of ice and periodically adding some to dog water on really hot days can be a good idea.  She says that even an hour in really extreme heat can turn a dogs bucketed water into very hot water he will not drink.   She says the ice can make the water in the container drinkable for the dog longer than it would have been.

          I have a lot of inexpensive thermometers hung in our kennel and in a couple of hidden places where we rotate larger dogs on the farm as sentries.   These areas can get much hotter than you might otherwise believe.   You must make arrangements for even outdoor dogs who normally tolerate sun quite well, for shade in extreme weathers.

(  The plan for this particular run in can be purchased through  )

( This is their scaled down 8 x 12 version.  Plans can be purchased at )

            The picture above is an artist's rendering of a horse run in.  We have a couple of these on the farm in outlying areas for alpacas.  This year, my husband built one, scaled down, for our large golden retriever male, Ben.    Ben's doghouse when he does sentry duty is way too hot for summer, but a scaled down run in, offers shade, and allows air circulation.     When it gets a little cooler, we plan to build an additional one for Skye, who also does outlying sentry duty.

This is another version of a hot weather dog house.  The overhang can be a good idea for a dog in hot weather.

The two pictures immediately above and below this label came from:

             If a dog is ever disoriented, in warm weather, then he needs to come indoors to a cooler location.  We keep one air conditioned room for supplies, and we have been known to allow an elderly dog to rest there, or in an indoor room in extreme heat.  Dogs also should not go for a run with you, if they are already headed for heat exhaustion.  Remember that animals develop heat exhaustion little by little usually over days, not just on one day.  Their dehydration is usually progressive over days.

            I do make sure that my alpacas have salt blocks in all weathers.   Vets tell us that dogs and cats do not require additional salt and that it can be toxic for them.

            I did learn something this week about chickens though.  Normally chickens receive plenty of salt from their food sources.  However, a breeder from Texas indicated to me that when temperatures reach 105-110 or 115 F that chickens benefit from having three things available to them as well as their normal rations.    One is plenty of cool water. Second is a small dish of lemon gatorade for energy and shock.   Third is a very small dish of water with two pinches of salt.  Apparently a little bit of salt in extreme weather can be beneficial to them.   We have not lost any additional chickens to heat exhaustion since we began doing this in very hot weather.  It is now our "extreme hot weather protocol for chickens".   We have not done this with ducks.