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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Too Innocent and Sweet to Know Pain and Suffering

We had a bit of a fright yesterday. Our sweet little beagle dog, Penny was bitten by a snake. At first we were not sure what had happened. Wifey saw her jump and yelp out in her pen. Later when she came in her left lip was swollen and she was drooling. She acted very sad and afraid and just wanted to be left alone. We thought at first she had been stung by a wasp as we did not see any marks right away. Later on the swelling increased a little bit and we noticed a couple of distinct black holes in the side of her lip. It became apparent then what we were dealing with. By this time the vets' offices had all closed so we ended up calling the vet ER in Jackson, an hour's drive from here. Penny was acting ok. She was able to eat and drink and was not having any trouble breathing so we decided just to watch her. I had to work last night so I was not able to stay home and watch over her, but sweet wifey said she did okay during the night.

This morning, both of her lips and her neck were swollen, but she was back to her old self, running, playing, eating, drinking and peeing. Wifey took her to the vet, but he thought she'd be okay. She got a cortisone shot.

I guess in Tennessee we're pretty lucky. We have three species of poisonous snakes, the copperhead, the timber rattlesnake, and the cottonmouth.

Most snakebites around here to humans are inflicted by copperheads. They tend to inhabit the same places we do, and I figure it was a copperhead that nabbed sweet Penny. The good news is that copperheads are relatively small, they have short fangs, and their venom is relatively weak on a scale of potency.

The other good news is that as many as 50 percent of snakebites that occur are "dry bites". In other words the snake can hit you with their fangs but inject no venom. The primary use of the venom is for hunting prey and I guess the snake does not want to waste it on other stuff. I remember seeing plenty of "dry" copperhead bites where the snake was simply startled and harmlessly struck the victim. If not a dry bite, sometimes the envenomation may be minimal resulting in only some pain and localized swelling but nothing more. I figure this is what happened to sweet Penny. She had only minimal swelling and was a lot better the next day. The vet thought she was barely injected as well.

A couple of the bad cases I remember were where some redneck was teasing the snake on a 4th of July outing or similar event. The "hey, hold my beer and watch this" comment was followed by a massive venom injection into the offending redneck. Most of these snakes just want to be left alone, and that is usually the best policy.

Sweet Penny is barely a year old and she can't help but want to stick that super sensitive scent hound nose to anything and everything. I hope this event and a little age will instill in her the appropriate amount of fear.

These three snakes in Tennessee are all pit vipers. They have a pit in front of each eye that is an infrared (heat source) detector. This aids the reptile in hunting warm blooded prey, even at night.

All our pit vipers have mainly hemotoxic venom. This venom is a powerful enzyme, kinda like souped up meat tenderizer. It destroys blood and muscle tissue, actually initiating a digestion process. People that have received large doses of venom will have immediate pain and swelling. Extremities may swell to two or three times normal size. Large amounts of this venom in the bloodstream can cause excessive bleeding, organ failure, shock and death.

Fortunately for humans, and for dogs too, there are antivenoms which will almost completely neutralize the venom effects in the body.

The timber rattlesnake is a much more reclusive animal. I have never seen one, although sweet wifey was startled by one out by the mailbox one day. She said it was rattling at her, but by the time I got out there, it was gone. Timber rattlers are generally not aggressive. Some of them do have a small component of neurotoxin in their venom. Neurotoxin is the same venom possessed by cobras and sea snakes. It kills by inhibiting the nervous system and thereby paralyzing muscles necessary for respiration. Timber rattlesnake bits are rare and I don't remember any accounts of mortality or morbidity from neurotoxic events.

The cottonmouth is usually found way out in the sticks, frequently around water and up in sloughs. I don't remember ever seeing one near the house, but I've seen several while I was out fishing. They tend to be relatively short but very fat. They have large heads, large fangs, and have a reputation around here of being very aggressive. I have heard stories of these snakes actually chasing hunters and fishermen, but I have to wonder if some of these stories are just that, STORIES! A cottonmouth has the equipment to definitely do some damage, but the venom is very weak on a relative scale. Again they are reclusive and I don't ever remember treating a cottonmouth bite though I have heard of some rather nasty bites reported by colleagues.

The common water snake is a nonpoisonous plentiful reptile around the river here. They are aggressive if you try and handle them but completely harmless. Unfortunately I have seen many common water snakes become the victim of a bullet or a boat paddle, being mistaken for a cottonmouth.

I tend to take a live and let live approach to snakes. Even our poisonous snakes are generally not aggressive. Snakes are beneficial in that they consume many rodents that we consider to be pests. God put them here for a reason.

I thank God sweet Penny is okay!

10 comments:

  1. I'm thankful also that she seems to be OK. I didn't sleep much either last night, mostly keeping watch over her, checking to make sure she was breathing OK, etc.

    She's our baby!

    Deborah F. Hamilton
    Right Truth
    http://www.righttruth.typepad.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. Was talking recently with our vet about just this thing---she is a true animal lover and the live and let live way was her way until a few years back. She indicated she has seen a number of small and large dogs die from snake bites and witnessed the suffering they go through and now believes in killing these poisonous snakes. Yes, every snake serves a purpose, but let the non-poisonous varity take up the slack. Glad to hear Penny is doing OK, you all and Penny were lucky this time.

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  3. Our 'son', Scooby, (8 year old Shih Tzu) was stung by a bee on his paw yesterday afternoon. Mom and Dad panicked and rushed him to the vet. Same as with Penny...sad, afraid, hurting and didn't want us to touch his paw.

    I can't imagine if it had been a snake! Mom would have had a heart attack.

    You can see his picture on the sidebar of my other blog at:

    http://lovehisappearing.blogspot.com/

    SO GLAD Penny is OK!!! She is indeed a sweetheart!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Ron, I would kill a poisonous snake on our property, no problem. I know some people that think the only good snake is a dead snake and will kill any in sight. This is shortsighted and wasteful.

    I carry a gun when I'm out fishing, but I don't use it on snakes, poisonous or otherwise. Those in the wild are not bothering me.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thanks Sue. You son Scooby is mighty handsome. Glad he recovered from his bee sting. Penny is even better this afternoon than this morning. Most of the swelling is gone. She has been sticking pretty close to us today. I don't think she's gotten over all the fright quite yet.

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  6. Sue: Scooby is so cute! I know you all were so frightened. They are "family"!.

    Deborah F. Hamilton
    Right Truth
    http://www.righttruth.typepad.com

    ReplyDelete
  7. I know the feeling. I was in the back yard one day last year when I heard Duke (you have seen his pix, cross between a werewolf and a pit bull) barking. I immediately recognised the bark as NOT being one of his usual barks. He has a people bark, a squirrel bark and a stranger bark. Well, this was a different bark, so I sauntered over to his pen and he was barking at a copperhead. Had enough sense not to get too close, just taunting the snake. I happened to have a shovel handy, so in just a jiffy I had 2 snake parts. Since then he has barked the snake bark a couple of times and I now recognise it for what it is.
    I'm glad Penny is doing well and hope you and Trix are too.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Lizzard. You are so right, they do have different barks and we learn what they are. I actually SAW her jump in the air, all four feet, when she apparently got bit. But I was inside looking out the kitchen window and couldn't see the snake. But I knew something had happened. She kept barking, then only a few minutes later she was sitting perfectly still, drooling and bubbling around her lips. I knew something was bad wrong.

    I went out and brought her in. I didn't see the fang marks right away, so I thought it might have been an insect sting at first.

    She was in rough shape for two days, but today (after a vet visit, shot, pills, etc.) she is doing much better. She just turned one year old, so she still doesn't have the fear of some things that she should.

    Deborah F. Hamilton
    Right Truth
    http://www.righttruth.typepad.com

    ReplyDelete
  9. Lizzard, a problem with Beagles is that they are scent hounds. They and bloodhounds have the most sensitive sniffers in the dog world. She just can't help but stick her nose to anything and everything. Her young age makes her less wary too. I am hoping this experience and some age will teach her avoidance behavior.

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  10. PRAISE GOD! poor little penny - we have three dogs and quite a few snakes around our cabin, but never if the dogs are with us. copperheads, timber rattlers and pygmy rattlers the worst - no cottonmouths. our little guy, sampson, just killed a garden-type snake on our patio the other day - i put him on it and he grabbed it, shook it and hurled it towards MY chair!

    ReplyDelete