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Friday, May 23, 2014

What happens when your dog gets bitten by a copperhead? We know now!

A dangerous snake bite has always been a little fear back in Mum's mind. Yesterday it became a reality.

We've seen several types of snakes here in our fenced in yard at the cabin - 6' rat snakes, many large garter snakes and the milk snake that bit me last year.

But the most dangerous snake we have up here are copperheads. We boned up in advance so that we'd be prepared if something ever happened, including identification, and emergency treatments for dogs and human.

Well, just yesterday, Mum went out to get the mail and walked about 20 feet outside the fenced in area around our cabin, leaving us in the yard and watched us. Just as she was unlatching the fence, she looked over and saw Gracie sniffing around some large rocks we have to defer the massive rain water that comes off the roof of our cabin and keeps our yard from washing down the mountain.

She told Gracie, 'leave it,' but at the very same time Gracie leapt about four feet in the air, ran back from the rocks and started pawing at her nose. Mum knew immediately it was a snake that bit her. But what kind? She had to find out.

She checked on Gracie quickly and saw the two blood spots from the puncture bite on her nose. Yep, a snake. She put us in a down stay at the other side of the yard, grabbed the three pronged rake and started moving a few rocks away from where Gracie was sniffing.

Yep, there was a snake, but it was so tucked in the rocks, she couldn't positively identify it from her first photo. So she moved more of the rock with the rake until she completely uncovered the snake. She nearly certain it was a copperhead, so we emailed the photo to our vet in Ball Ground, and called them immediately.

They confirmed it. Yes, it was a copperhead. Mum got instructions from them while checking on Gracie and seeing that her snout was starting to swell. She rushed around to get us ready to race to the emergency vet, as the first three hours are the most critical in getting medical attention for a snake bite.

We are far from town, so it took us about 45 minutes total to reach the vet after the bite. We had called first and they were waiting for us at the door. They rushed us all into the exam room and immediately commented about how great she was doing. Mum thought so too, and truth be told, she was expecting much worse from her research about this issue.

Over the next 30 minutes or so Gracie's snout swelled even more. Wow, we thought she looked a little like a basset hound on one side of her face poor girl! She's also drooling because she couldn't control her mouth normally with the swelling.

Standard treatment for a dog with a copperhead bite is a shot of benadryl, antibiotics and a steroid injection, followed up with some pain killers. Gracie was doing so well (her temp was normal, and believe it or not her heart rate was good), that we decided against the steroid shot and Mum gave her Traumeel (a homeopathic) for the pain and inflammation. Gracie got the benadryl and antibiotic shot and she has antibiotics to take over the next days. Mum doesn't like giving Gracie antibiotics but will in this case, as snakes carry tons of wacho bacteria in their mouths.

After about an hour or two, the swelling started to subside. All the time Gracie wanted her dinner, treats, lots of love from all the people at the vet office. What a trooper!

The biggest danger to a dog that is bitten by a copperhead is an allergic response. If they are allergic, it can be fatal to a dog. Otherwise, it's just a process of letting the venom process and work through the body and run it's course which takes about a week to get back to normal.

It is expected she will have sloughing of the skin around the bite over the course of  the next days to a week.

The other danger is the bite area becoming necrotic. Necrosis is when the tissue dies. The first signs are the skin turning black and it would happen in this case in about three days. So we are monitoring Gracie for any signs, but it isn't expected since she is doing so well.

Today Gracie is looking better. She's really tired, eating and drinking well, no Big D or vomiting. The swelling has gone down a lot on the right side of her face, but she's still swollen all around her snout from her eyes down to her nose skin. Mum gave her a Traumeel again this morning, just in case she is in a little pain.

Last night Gracie didn't want Mum touching her snout as it was way too sensitive, but she's letting Mum rub it a little and check the skin this morning. Super good sign.

We think that Gracie didn't get as much venom from the bite as she could have if the snake had been more out in the open. Striking from between rocks doesn't allow them to get as big of a a hold as if they were free.

The big question is where did it go? Mum couldn't find it when she took us out to get in the car to race to the vet. And she can't find it this morning on her preliminary check.

One of our thoughtful neighbors let us borrow a very heavy hoe, just in case; as it's the best way to kill a snake of this kind if we absolutely have to - gives you some good distance.

Mum ordered organic yellow sulfur, as many folks up here use it to deter snakes and other nasties. Her plans are to put it between the rocks, under the deck and on the outside of the fence to keep the snakes out of our play area.

One thing that Mum should have done is carry Gracie, from the yard into the house, and then to the car for transport. Keeping your dog inactive reduces the 'flow' of venom throughout their body and slows down the bad effects giving you more time to get to the vet for treatment.

Copperhead bites are much less severe than rattlesnake bites and don't require antivenin. Some folks up here don't even take their dog's to the vet, but we don't recommend that in case the dog was bitten severely or has an allergic reaction. In the case of rattlesnake bites, the quickest you can get to the vet the better and antivenin is required. And it's recommended not to do anything but keep the dog as immobile as possible before and during transport and let the vet experts do their thing.

Snakes bites are more dangerous for smaller dogs. Gracie is 28 lbs, as compared to my 18 lbs. So it would be much more dangerous for me. Snake bites are more dangerous for humans than dogs, as well.

We'll continue to work on our snake avoidance training. I've been great at it with Mum in the yard, but Gracie is not as responsive to the commands. So we'll work harder with her. We're secretly hoping that the copperhead sheds it's skin in our yard, as it looked like it was about to, and we can use that type of skin with our training, rather than the skin of the milk snake we have.

Here's a great article from PetPlace that we found for snakebites with dogs if you'd like to read more.

We'll update again in a few days!


  1. Oh my! That must have been scary for everyone...I know my Ma would freak out! Thank goodness your mom was brave enough to look to see what kind of snake it was and was calm enough to drive you to the vet.
    Be careful out there,

  2. How absolutely scary for you and your mom, Gracie! We are happy to hear that you're doing well and we're crossing paws that you'll be back to 100% soon!

    Love ya lots♥
    Mitch and Molly

  3. Wow, that's pretty scary. Glad your mom knew what to do immediately - she's well prepared. Thanks for sharing this info with us.

  4. What a terrible experience for all of you! I am so glad Gracie is doing okay. Please post regularly to let us know how she's going, or I'll start to worry.

  5. We're so glad it wasn't a rattlesnake and Gracie didn't have an allergic reaction. We hope she continues to heal and do well.


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