Rattlesnake Bite

                              Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake

The following is a chronology of events we experienced when Argo was envenomated by an Eastern Diamond Rattlesnake while hiking with us in Northeastern Florida.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019: Stan and I were on a trail approaching the end of a hiking trek in the Withlacoochee State Forest in Brooksville, FL. Argo was walking next to us off-leash exploring and sniffing all of the inviting new smells in the forest.

Suddenly we heard him yelp and jump back from a cluster of bushes where he had been exploring. We immediately checked him for injuries and only found a small cut and drop of blood on his muzzle under the right eye which we assumed was a scratch sustained when he jumped away from the bushes. Just as Argo yelped I heard a faint buzzing sound but we didn’t think anything of it at the time.

Fortunately, we were only a few yards from the car instead of in the middle of the long trail. Argo walked normally and jumped in as usual, but as we started driving his head began tilting to the left and his tongue was hanging out of his mouth. Recalling the buzzing sound in light of his behavior we knew he had been bitten by a rattlesnake. Stan jumped in the back seat to support Argo while I Googled the nearest vet and drove there at warp speed. In route, we noticed a slight swelling under Argo’s right eye, and he became wobbly during the ride.

Argo’s face and underside of his neck between the muzzle and chest were swollen when we arrived. The vet’s initial diagnosis was either a yellow jacket sting or a rattlesnake bite, but as a precaution, she recommended taking him to the Blue Pearl Specialty & Emergency Pet Hospital in Tampa that usually had antivenin and was well equipped to treat poisonous snake bites if that was the case. The vet called ahead, advised of our situation, confirmed the hospital had antivenin on hand and indicated that we were on the way.

Approximately 45 minutes later we arrived and were immediately seen by Dr. John Gicking, the head veterinarian specializing in emergency and critical care. The swelling in Argo’s neck had increased, his face was swollen beyond recognition, and both continued swelling as we spoke with him. We informed Dr. Gicking what happened, the previous vet’s diagnosis, and the buzzing noise I heard. The absence of seeing a snake, the paucity of information we provided along with the small cut and trickle of blood under his eye made it extremely difficult for him to determine the source of Argo’s condition, which is critical for prescribing the correct treatment. He then pulled out his cell phone, played the sound of a rattlesnake, and I immediately identified it as the buzzing sound I heard. Without hesitation he stated that Argo had been envenomated by a rattlesnake, and judging by the amount of swelling in his face and large edema on his neck, it was most likely an Eastern Diamondback. This is the world’s largest rattlesnake that can grow to eight feet and weigh ten pounds; its venom is the most toxic of the species. 

Dr. Gicking proposed a treatment plan that included a complete blood count (CBC), IV fluids; opioid pain killers administered through IV; blood work to determine the extent of blood coagulation; antivenin to neutralize the toxic venom and facilitate clotting factors that were lacking due to the envenomation. He explained that venom destroys red blood cells and tissue; prevents coagulation that can result in bleeding out, and affects vital organs. Furthermore, the efficacy of antivenin is significantly diminished if administered beyond a four-hour window from the time of the bite.

Fortunately, we were within that window and told him to proceed as he felt necessary because our only concern was saving Argo’s life. On a positive note, which we really needed, he opined that the antivenin would most likely be successful, and Argo should soon be back to normal. At Dr. Gicking’s urging, Argo spent the night at the hospital where he would receive the best continuous care possible, and we stayed at a hotel in Tampa.

Wednesday, November 13: Argo spent the next 20 hours being monitored in Blue Pearl’s ICU where he received six vials of antivenin, fluids, and painkillers. Dr. Gicking released Argo Wednesday afternoon and advised us to immediately take him to an emergency clinic if he felt sick, was lethargic, or the swelling continued. He also strongly recommended that we take Argo to our local vet in Ft. Lauderdale to follow up with a complete blood analysis on Thursday and Saturday, and if needed, every two days thereafter. The purpose was to assess changes in coagulation, red and white blood cell count, and determine whether vital organs e.g., the pancreas, kidneys, and liver had sustained any damage. We headed home that afternoon with two different oral pain killers, appetite stimulant, and dosage instructions while Argo slept most of the way.

Thursday, November 14 – 16: We took Argo to the emergency care doctor at his regular vet, VCA Hollywood Animal Hospital in Hollywood, FL for blood work as recommended, and again on Saturday the 16th. He was lethargic and the blood work was very troubling because it indicated the white blood cell count had increased and the red blood cell count had decreased; ergo they were going in the wrong direction. The swelling in his face and neck were subsiding and we scheduled an appointment to have his blood tested again the following Tuesday.

Sunday, November 17 – 18: Argo’s lethargy continued through midday Sunday and we were prepared to take him to an emergency and critical care hospital. Incredibly, and all of a sudden he began acting like his usual energetic mischievous self. In light of his behavior, we decided to take him for a short walk to see how he would act… and were happily surprised.

Monday his face and neck appeared to be more normal. He was eager to go for walks, had a snap in his step, pulled, and wanted to chase any creatures that moved even though he was leashed. It was the first time we saw him happy since the snake bite and were optimistic that the results from his next blood work would continue to show improvement.

Tuesday, November 19 – 20: Argo’s blood was taken again and sent to a pathologist for analysis to confirm that there was not a secondary infection. He continued being upbeat and happy, so we took him to one of his favorite parks to check out squirrels, iguanas, lizards, and feathered creatures, but while on a leash.

Then on Wednesday the news we had been hoping for came: the emergency care vet called to advise that Argo’s blood panel was ‘awesome’ and scheduled a precautionary follow-up visit on December 12th. Needless to say, we were elated.

As an aside, she said this case represented the ‘perfect storm’ because we were lucky in getting Argo to snake bite specialists at Blue Pearl Specialty & Emergency Pet Hospital in Tampa who administered the antivenin within the critical four-hour window subsequent to the snakebite which may well have saved his life. She was also pleased with his behavior as well as how good and healthy he looked.

Nov 21-22: We continued to walk Argo on his leash, and he was stronger and more excited every day. His face was back to normal and the swelling in his neck continued to subside. As the swelling continued subsiding we noticed two tiny marks approximately one inch apart that must have been where he was envenomated, but the folds in his swollen neck prevented them from being visible. The mark under his right eye must have been sustained when he jumped back from the bush after the bite. It has healed without leaving a blemish.

Nov 23-25: It was time to take Argo to two of his favorite parks where he could run freely off-leash, swim and chase prey. We walked approximately three miles at each park and he certainly exceeded that with all of his darting around. After Thanksgiving, we’re taking him to Juno Beach, FL, where he loves to run on the white sand, play with other dogs, splash in the waves, and chase the frisbee.

Dec 12: Argo had his fourth and final blood test at VCA Hollywood Animal Hospital and the lab results could not have been more positive. Furthermore, his liver, kidneys, and all other vital organs are functioning perfectly. Argo did indeed make a remarkable recovery… and as Vizsla’s say, ‘we are Vizslas and Vizslas are strong’!

Lessons Learned

Venomous Snake Bite: If your dog is envenomated by a pit viper immediately take it to a veterinary clinic with expertise in treating snake bites and has a supply of antivenin on hand. If antivenin isn’t administered within four hours of the bite its efficacy is significantly diminished with each passing minute. If you enjoy the great outdoors with your dog, I suggest being proactive and find a local vet experienced in envenomation cases that has antivenin on hand. Hopefully, you’ll never experience your dog being envenomated by a pit viper.

The Importance of Timely Comprehensive Blood Tests: The  Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake’s venom is highly toxic and, like other venoms, will destroy or adversely affect red and white blood cells, tissue, vital organs, and bone marrow. Multiple blood tests were invaluable because they provided an accurate real-time window into Argo’s health and indicated the antivenin’s efficacy in neutralizing the venom and preventing its regeneration. To ensure accuracy, each of his blood tests was comprised of the following:

  • A complete blood count (CBC) – evaluates overall health including vital organs e.g., liver, kidneys, and pancreas, as well as detecting a wide range of disorders, including anemia, infection, and leukemia. It also measures several components and features of blood that include:
    • Red blood cells, which carry oxygen
    • White blood cells, which fight infection
    • Hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying protein in red blood cells
    • Hematocrit, the proportion of red blood cells to the fluid component, or plasma, in your blood
    • Platelets, which help with blood clotting
  • Coagulation factor – measures the extent to which coagulation is occurring
  • Retyculocyate Count – measures the production of new red blood cells

Pet Insurance: Injuries to a pet can occur in an instant and the requisite care can be very expensive. We live in Ft Lauderdale, FL and always took precautions to avoid alligators; pit vipers were not on our radar. Furthermore, Argo is only 22 months old and in excellent health, so we naïvely didn’t think insurance was needed.

How foolish and wrong we were. The antivenin, intensive care, continuing blood testing and associated vet visits have cost in excess of $10,000, a significant part of which would have been covered by insurance. I can’t urge you strongly enough to purchase insurance on your dog.

Please don’t construe this as sniveling, but rather a statement of fact for informational purposes only. We love Argo and the expense incurred was irrelevant.

Pictures Speak Volumes: Below find pictures reflecting Argo on November 12, the date of the bite, and the incredible progress he made through the 26th, just two weeks after being envenomated.

11/12 In route to Blue Pearl Emergency Hospital in Tampa approximately one hour after the bite

11/12 With Dr. Satmary at Blue Pearl Emergency Hospital

11/12 With Dr. Satmary

11/13 Heading home as swelling in neck & face continue to increase

11/13 Home and very uncomfortable with a distorted face and neck

11/14 Home without much difference in the swelling

11/14 – Home and not looking forward to another visit with the Vet

11/14 Waiting for the Vet at VCA Hollywood Hospital

11/14 Home after the Vet visit and tired of being poked with needles

11/15 – Home with the blahs and still can’t exercise

11/15 Hey – A guys gotta catch some ZZZZs while convalescing

11/16 – Chillin’ at home before another trip to the vet

11/16 Waiting for the Vet – still some swelling in my face and neck

11/17 Feeling much better perched on my favorite sofa ready to aggravate dad

11/17 Yucking it up with Dad

11/26 Wanna play ball?

Two white spots are where the snake’s fangs penetrated my neck and envenomated me

My revenge on a ‘tuff’ toy snake that I bite into and make squeak real loud

Back in the woods seeking prey

Now We’re talkin’

Heading for some ducks

Taking it easy after a day running in the park

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