In this article, our guest contributor Dr. Tegan Hunt, Emergency Veterinarian, explains how your Vet will treat a pet that has been diagnosed with snake envenomation.
Positive snake envenomation diagnosis
In my previous article I discussed how your Veterinarian would decide if your pet had a positive diagnosis of snake envenomation. You can review this information here. When we confirm this diagnosis, we will begin treating your pet immediately. Here I outline the steps we take to get your pet on the road to recovery.
Snake envenomation treatment
The patient will be taken to the treatment room and an IV (intravenous) catheter will be placed in a suitable vein. We may need to stabilise the patient, including correcting shock. In some cases, their lungs can become paralysed, requiring a tube to be placed into their airway to help the patient breathe.
- Snake anti-venin is administered, depending on the snake type.
- The anti-venin is diluted and administered over approximately 20 minutes.
- Many patients require MULTIPLE vials of anti-venin (1 vial contains 4000 units of Tiger/Brown snake anti-venom).
- Studies indicate that two vials are required to neutralise the venom, therefore 2 vials are often recommended.
- Recent research indicates that if adequate anti-venin has been administered, then this should lead to successful neutralisation.
- We no longer re-test the venom levels in urine after administration. This is due to a recent paper which indicates that all patients that were treated with 2 x vials, had serum venom levels neutralised and residual venom was found in the urine, even though serum venom had been neutralised.
- Patients who are coagulopathic, have muscle damage (myotoxicity) and/or have blood cell damage (haemotoxicity) should be monitored closely in the hospital.
- In some cases if bleeding continues, even after sufficient anti-venin has been administered, the patient may need a transfusion of fresh frozen plasma to provide clotting factors.
- Snake envenomation patients tend to stay in hospital on IV fluids and are monitored closely until clinical signs resolve.
- Time in hospital may be several days, especially if it is a complicated case.
- The anti-venin does not reverse clinical signs such as paralysis immediately, this takes time to resolve.
- In complicated cases such as ongoing bleeding disorders, paralysis, lung paralysis or aspiration pneumonia (from vomiting), symptomatic treatment will be started. Treatment may include oxygen therapy, nasogastric tube placement (for nutrition) ventilation, antibiotics, gut protectants or transfusions.
Getting your pet to the Vet as soon as possible after a snake bite is critical. The sooner they can be assessed, a diagnosis confirmed and treatment for snake envenomation started the better their chance of recovery. You can also learn more about how we diagnose snake envenomation here.
More about Dr. Tegan Hunt, BVSc.
Tegan is an Emergency Veterinarian that practices in Brisbane, Australia. She is passionate about all things animal-related, including educating pet owners. You can follow her adventures on Instagram – dr.teganadel_vet