In this article, our guest contributor Dr. Tegan Hunt, Emergency Veterinarian, explains how your Vet will diagnose snake envenomation.

Snakes are out

As summer fast approaches in Australia, snakes are emerging from their winter hibernation. If you think your pet has been bitten by a snake, bring them to the Veterinary Clinic as soon as possible. Do not delay seeking treatment, or put yourself at risk by trying to capture the snake. Once your pet is in our care, we will follow these steps to make a diagnosis.

Initial review

When diagnosing snake envenomation we take a thorough history. If the patient is already showing clinical signs, then the patient will be taken directly to the treatment room for stabilising. Once clinical signs occur, progression is rapid. Clinical signs are important in our diagnosis and treatment management. Bite wounds are typically very small and difficult to see, however, can sometimes be visualised.

Snake envenomation diagnostic tests

Diagnostic tests performed to confirm the diagnosis of snake envenomation, include the following:

 

Bloodwork
  • We look for changes in particular liver enzymes that may be elevated.
  • We also look for a increase in an enzyme that is found in tissues (e.g. muscle) called creatine kinase (CK). If there is significant elevation, this may indicate muscle damage.
  • We also may see an increase in kidney enzymes which may indicate kidney damage.
  • A reduction in red blood cells may be noted, indicating an anemia.
Urinalysis
  • We assess for any discoloration in the urine. Colour can change to a bloody colour or a dark orange colour.
Coagulation panel
  • We assess if there is an increase in clotting times. If elevated, this can indicate a bleeding disorder. Patients with increased clotting times can be at risk of bleeding inappropriately into body cavities.
Snake identification
  • The identification of the snake can be helpful to confirm a diagnosis. However, I reiterate, DO NOT put yourself at risk by trying to capture the snake.
Snake Venom Detection Kit (SVDK)
  • This is a test where we collect urine or serum from the patient and determine if envenomation has occurred and by what type of snake. I have added a photo of this test. There is a control well which will turn blue, if one of the other wells also turns blue, this is a positive test for that particular snakes venom. Please note, you can get a false negative test if it has been too long or too soon after being bitten by a snake. Therefore, a negative SVDK does not necessarily mean the patient has not been bitten by a snake.

After the assessment of clinical signs and confirming the diagnosis of snake envenomation, treatment is promptly started. Now that we have explained how your Vet will diagnose snake envenomation, you can learn more about how we treat 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