Our final blog post on snake bites is about field care or snake bite first aid treatment. Take note that no matter how severe or mild you are suspecting the bite to be- your primary goal should be to evacuate as quick as possible. As previously stated, a dog might not show any symptoms for up to 24 hours after a bite. If you haven't already, read last weeks blog post about what to look for in snake bite symptoms.
First aid field care for snake bites:
1. ) MINIMIZE MOVEMENT. The more your dog moves, the quicker the venom might spread. Carry him or her out in a way that minimizes stress and movement.
Also, keep calm and do not let your anxiety get the best of you. The calmer you are the calmer your dog will be, and this is very important, as increased blood pressure and heart rate could potentially allow the venom to spread quicker.
2. ) WASTE NO TIME. Do not waste any time and evacuate him or her immediately. All snake bites victims- even if a mild bite is suspected should be evacuated, and veterinary care should be reached as quickly as possible.
Antivenin is more effective if given early - within 4-6 hours from the time of the bite. It still however, can be effective in situations where treatment was delayed- such as in a back-country situations, delayed transportation, or long distances from veterinary care.
I say all this so you see the importance of quick evacuation. Do not waste time on out dated or folk lore first aid treatment. If you need a refresher of these snake bite treatment myths you can find them here.
3. ) ADMINISTER BENADRYL. There is some debate whether Benadryl should be given if your dog is bitten by a snake. For our purposes, I say you should give it. Benadryl will not do anything to counteract the toxins. However, Benadryl can have a sedative effect which could potentially be of benefit if your dog is anxious. Remember that in order to minimize venom spread we must keep them quiet and reduce movement and stress. Note that Benadryl may not be as effective as a sedative if you administer it regularly. Give it to your dog quickly without delay and without stressing him or her out too much. If you don't know how much Benadryl to give download this quick medication reference chart by clicking here.
Do not, under any circumstances give a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) such as Rimadyl, Deramaxx, Metacam, or God forbid- Aspirin. Reminder: A snake bite can deliver a toxin that acts as an anticoagulant- and an NSAID will make this worse-- as it can also reduce clotting factors and predispose them to bleeds.
4. ) IF FEASIBLE, ELEVATE THE AREA OF THE BITE. Finally, you may also attempt to elevate the limb if feasible while hiking out. Do not do so if it will cause any unnecessary stress. If the dog gets bit on the face or muzzle- try to keep his head elevated or propped up while evacuating him out—if feasible.
If you haven’t already, please re visit our listed methods on how to prevent snake bites from occurring in the first place. Unlike big cats and bears snakes do not chase. They simply want to be left alone. Therefore, it is really important to not allow our dogs to harass them. Some dogs will simply be in the wrong place at the wrong time, however we can reduce their chances of getting bit by being more proactive in our prevention.
Worrying about snake bites is very common. It is one of my most frequently asked questions. Keep in mind that worrying is wasted energy. Refocus this energy towards something productive- like education and prevention.
And if you have any questions please do not hesitate to reach out to me. I really enjoy hearing from all of you!
Until next time, keep your dog safe!
Libbie Fort, DVM
P.S. Make sure you download this reference chart so you know how much medication you can give your dog safely.