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Immediate Action

Identify the snake if possible. Restrict movement of the pet. Loosely immobilize the limb in a functional position if bitten on an extremity. DO NOT incise the bite wound to aspirate the venom and DO NOT apply a tourniquet without veterinary assistance. DO NOT apply ice to the area. Seek veterinary attention.

Veterinary Care

General treatment: The animal will be kept quiet and the bitten area immobilized if possible to decrease the spread of the venom. The area around the wound will be clipped and cleaned.

Supportive treatment: Antihistamines may be administered and IV fluids given to help prevent low blood pressure. Oxygen is given if needed. Antibiotics are used to prevent secondary infections. Pain medication is provided as necessary. Laboratory tests to check for bleeding problems and organ damage will be performed repeatedly. Blood transfusions may be necessary in cases of severe coagulopathies. The area above and below the bite wounds may be measured every 15 minutes to monitor the edema. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are contraindicated in the early phase (first 24 hours) of treatment because of the different types of venom and the anticoagulant effects of NSAIDs. The use of corticosteroids may be contraindicated also, as some research shows they increase the severity of the bite.

Specific treatment: Antivenin* may be administered. The use of antivenin is controversial and is used at the discretion of the attending veterinarian. To be most effective, antivenin should be given within 4 hours of the bite. It becomes less effective as more time passes.

All snake bite victims should be observed for a minimum of 12 hours, even when there are no clinical signs. If clinical signs are present, the length of observation is increased to 48-72 hours, as damage to organs may not appear immediately.

Prognosis

A study of animals bitten by pit vipers showed that those treated with antivenin, intravenous fluids, and antibiotics had a mortality rate less than 1% and local tissue damage was rare. The mortality rate in untreated patients depended on the species of snake involved. For example, in patients bitten by the Northern Pacific Rattlesnakes, the mortality rate was about 10%. In the much more dangerous Mojave rattlesnake, it could be as high as 35%.

Created: May 26, 2017

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