What is Pit Viper Bite Poisoning?
The pit viper gets its name from the way this type of snake detects the presence of its prey or danger. All of these types of snakes have small pits between its eye and nostril on each side which can detect heat. Since they have very bad eyesight, they use these heat pits to detect the heat from your body along with vibrations in the ground when you (or your dog) approaches them. It is easy to distinguish these snakes from other snakes because they have a triangular head, two long fangs that can retract, oval shaped eyes, and the rattlesnakes actually have a rattle on the end of their body that they shake to make the noise that these types of snakes are famous for. The rattlesnake bite is the number one cause of snakebites in North America even though they do not bite unless they feel threatened. If the bite is treated right away, it is usually not fatal. As a matter of fact, pit vipers do not use venom in approximately one out four cases.
If your dog gets bitten by a rattlesnake or other type of pit viper (i.e. copperhead, water moccasin) it is best to keep them calm and take them to an emergency animal hospital if your veterinarian is not available immediately. The venom causes a type of blood poisoning in your dog that will stop the blood from being able to clot effectively, making excessive bleeding a major concern. Even if you cannot see the blood, your dog could be bleeding internally. This toxin also causes tissue damage and death, low blood pressure, and neurological damage. It is vital that you get your dog to the veterinarian immediately after the snake bite because the sooner you get your dog treated, the better the chances of survival.
Pit vipers are poisonous snakes that include rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins (cottonmouths). If your dog is bitten by any of these snakes, it is a life-threatening emergency and you need to take him to the veterinarian or animal hospital immediately. The venom from these snakes causes injury to the soft tissues, respiratory distress, kidney damage, destruction of the blood vessels, the inability for the blood to clot, and necrosis (dead tissue). If not treated right away, the damage will be irreversible and will result in loss of a limb or death.
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Symptoms of Pit Viper Bite Poisoning in Dogs
There may be no symptoms at all for up to eight hours, but if you know that your dog has been bitten by a snake, you should go to the veterinarian or animal hospital right away. Even if you do not know what kind of snake it was, it is best to err on the side of caution. The symptoms most commonly seen in pit viper snake bites are:
- Visible bite marks usually on face or extremities (i.e. two puncture wounds close together)
- Agitation and restlessness
- Breathing trouble (i.e. gasping, panting)
- Extreme sleepiness
- Trouble walking
Causes of Pit Viper Bite Poisoning in Dogs
The cause of pit viper bite toxicity is a bite from a rattlesnake, copperhead, or water moccasin.
Diagnosis of Pit Viper Bite Poisoning in Dogs
The veterinarian will need to know what kind of snake bit your dog if possible, but do not go out of your way to look for it. It is much more important to get your dog to the veterinarian rather than go look for a snake. The veterinarian may be able to tell if it was a poisonous snake or not, but it is best to consider the bite to be venomous just in case it was. Provide the veterinarian with as much information you have about the incident and your dog’s medical history as well. This includes any recent illness or injury, allergies, changes in behavior, energy level, or appetite, and vaccination records.
The veterinarian will check your dog’s vitals (i.e. temperature, heart rate), do a CBC (complete blood count), clotting test, urinalysis, and EKG (electrocardiogram) to check for damage of your dog’s heart (i.e. arrhythmia, tachycardia). They may also need to get some radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, or CT scans.
Treatment of Pit Viper Bite Poisoning in Dogs
Antivenom is the only treatment that is confirmed to be effective for a venomous pit viper bite, but it has to be used within 12 to 24 hours of the bite and it is very expensive. Some veterinarians may decide not to use the antivenom if he thinks your dog will recover without it, such as with a minor bite in a large dog. Other treatment procedures to control the symptoms are corticosteroids (i.e. prednisone), antihistamines (i.e. diphenhydramine), fluid and oxygen therapy, antibiotics (i.e. ampicillin) and pain medication (i.e. tramadol).
Recovery of Pit Viper Bite Poisoning in Dogs
Your dog’s chances of recovery depends on how soon you can get treatment, the type of snakebite, and where your dog was bitten. The closer the bite is to your dog’s heart, the faster his health will decline.