There are many species of snakes in Arkansas, most of which are harmless and many actually helpful. The local King Snake even eats dangerous venomous snakes. There are however, three species of venomous snakes. The Copperhead snake represents some 88% of snake bites in central Arkansas. Water moccasins also known as Cottonmouths account for some 10% with the remaining 2% from Rattlesnakes.
Snake bites are very painful. Snake mouths are full of very nasty bacteria which is injected with the venom. The venom itself causes tissue death, which, when coupled with the bacteria can produce sepsis or blood poisoning. Signs of snake envenomation are seen within 1/2 to 36 hours after the pet is bitten. Different snake venom can have a variety of effects ranging from bleeding to neurological effects. Typically the first sign of snakebite will be swelling around the area that was bitten which typically worsens over the first 24 hours. In cases where the pet was bitten in the muzzle you might notice swelling in the neck region.
To some extent, snakes can control the volume of venom injected so snakebite cases can range from mild (typically when a small amount of venom is transferred or when envenomation occurs from a snake with low-potency venom) to severe (when a large amount of highly potent venom is transferred). There is no known way to diagnose or test how much venom was injected into the pet. Diagnosis is typically by witnessing the exposure, or by clinical signs such as swelling, pain or collapse after being outdoors. While some bite marks can be located from the bruising and swelling in a area many are quite inconspicuous and may require careful inspection and clipping of hair.
Treatment of patient with only a local reaction to the bite usually involves pain medication, anti-inflammatory medication, anti-histamines and antibiotics due to the amount of very nasty bacteria in the snake's mouth that is injected with the venom a the time of the bite. However, many patients may develop systemic (whole body) symptoms which might include systemic shock, neurologic disorders, difficulty breathing, vascular shut down, clotting disorders and potential organ failure. Often, basic lab work such as blood and urine tests or a clotting profile may help assess patients plus give doctors a baseline for comparison as the patient's condition progresses. Hospitalized care including fluids and IV medications may be necessary as well as oxygen support. In patients that develop systemic symptoms, antivenom is often indicated. Our office is one of the few in the state that routinely has access to multi-species anti-venom.
While they can be fatal, with prompt treatment many animals recover within 1-2 days, however hospital treatment may be as long as a week in severe cases with a further 2-3 weeks of rest at home to recuperate. Occasionally the venom site will develop tissue death and sloughing which might require more medical attention or surgical intervention should the area become infected.
We know that snake bites can be stressssssful. If your pet has had a close encounter of a slithering kind, call our office for medical care from our experienced and caring staff immediately.