Summer Dangers – Snakes (Part One)

Preparing Pets for Our Vacation
June 30, 2009
Summer Dangers – Snakes (Part Two)
July 11, 2009

Summer Dangers – Snakes (Part One)

Ah, glorious summertime. Living in the mountains of Colorado, I look forward to a few months of warm, sunny weather as many of you do. Summertime brings some dangers, however, of which we all need to be aware. A previous post discussed poison mushrooms and some dangerous foliage. In most regions, summer dangers also includes poisonous snakes. The snake varieties vary from region to region – here in the Rocky Mountains we keep our Snake blog post warningeyes open for rattle snakes. Where my family lives in Arizona they remain aware of diamondback rattle snakes. I won’t list them all, but do take the time to be aware of what snakes may be lurking in your area and take precautions to keep your pets safe. Remember that outdoor cats love to play chase; dogs have a way of nosing in to areas they may regret; and horses can come upon a sleeping snake and startle it to reaction. Be aware!

Following is the first part of an interview with two client-friends who had an unexpected experience with a rattle snake. Part two of this article will conclude the interview, and I will comment on my communication experience with Cooper immediately after his run-in.

Cast of Characters:

Cooper – a well-behaved four-year-old black Labrador Retriever who enjoys hiking in the mountains of Colorado

Morgan – Cooper’s younger Golden Retriever friend

Wendy – Morgan’s mom, and Cooper’s caretaker when his family is on vacation

Jill – Cooper’s mom who was on vacation in South America during the time of Cooper’s experience with the snake



Q: Wendy, what was the terrain and conditions present when Cooper met the snake ?

A: The date was May 4, 2007.  The days had been really hot so I wanted to take Morgan and Cooper up Table Mountain (in Golden, Colorado) early.   We headed up around 8:30 a.m. and it was already 85 degrees with hot sun and little wind.  Table mountain is less than a mile up to the top but relatively steep.  We took the longer route with fewer switchbacks.  While Morgan was off the trail and wandering around, Cooper remained on the trail just slightly ahead of me.  We turned at a switchback approximately ½ way up the mountain and all of a sudden Cooper got excited and started to sniff around the bush – a little deeper than his usual sniffs….then I heard the rattle!

Q: Did you have any warning that a snake was near? Was Cooper nosing around under bushes and disturb the snake, or was it completely innocent on Cooper’s part?

A: I heard the rattle and quickly called Cooper back – it didn’t take much as he was already pulling away from the bush. 

Q: Cooper is a good-size Labrador. Once bitten, how did you manage to get him to the hospital?

A: As I had heard the rattle and saw the snake which was BIG, I was pretty sure that Cooper had been bitten.  I don’t recall if he actually whelped or if he just pulled away from the bush.  I quickly called Morgan and Cooper and headed down the hill.  I had previously had a run-in with a rattler so knew that raising Cooper’s heart rate would only speed up the blood flow which, in turn, would pump the poison through is body.   Within just a couple of minutes Cooper was foaming from the mouth and the bridge between his eyes was beginning to disappear (it was now clear that the snake bit Cooper directly between the eyes as evidenced by the puncture wounds).

I put both dogs on lead and slowly, yet panicky, walked down the hill.  It took at least 15 minutes to walk back to my house and all the while Cooper was getting slower and slower.  With anxiety building I put Cooper in the car and drove as quickly as I could to the Vet (another 15 minutes away).  By this time Cooper’s face was drawn and drooping – he was slow and obviously in pain.

Q: Please walk us through the next steps, Wendy – finding an emergency hospital equipped to handle snake bites, treatment options, the prognosis and any information the veterinary staff provided.

A: The entire Vet staff was very responsive and gave me all the critical information – the most important was to give Cooper the anti-venom shot which he did receive within minutes of arriving.  After admitting Cooper I promptly called you (Kelly) to ask if I was doing the right thing for Cooper, what else could I have done, etc. – I was nervous, scared, upset!

The doctor was excellent in telling me all they would have to do with Cooper.  After receiving the anti-venom, the staff could only try to make him as comfortable as possible.  The doctor would not give any indication if Cooper’s body would accept the anti-venom or his chances for survival.  That scared me the most!  Cooper was to be in the hospital for the coming 3-4 days and would most likely be very ‘out of it’ as the drugs were strong.  They put him on an IV and monitored his water-intake for the coming days.  Before I left the hospital I was allowed to see Cooper who was heavily sedated and obviously in pain.

I went back to the hospital at 3:00 p.m. and this time it was even more upsetting – Cooper was whining, delirious and his head had grown to an enormous size – probably 2-3 times his normal size.  His face drooped and sagged and he had managed to pull out his IV several times during the day.  I tried to comfort him, talk to him and assure him that he would get through this.  The doctor did ensure that his whining was more from the medication than him being in pain at that point.

For the next couple of days I visited Cooper several times a day – he seemed to be improving slowly but his head was still very large and he was slow moving.  I checked in with the doctor each time – he still would not give any indication of whether Cooper would make it or not.

Finally on Sunday, the day Jill and Mike were due home, Cooper started to show some more improvement.  He recognized me and was more responsive than he had been in previous days.   The doctor was also more optimistic and gave a positive response about Cooper’s prognosis.

Part two continues with Cooper’s long-term prognosis, advice should you find yourself in a similar circumstance, and my own experience in communicating with Cooper during his ordeal.

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