One of the things we may have to deal with when out in nature is the presence of snakes. The good news is that they tend to den up during cold weather, but that still leaves a lot of the year when we may find ourselves and our rabbit dogs exposed to them. Snakes are plentiful in wooded environments as well as in swamps, so is it wise to know what types of snakes you may encounter where you hunt and what to do in case of a bite.
Being bitten by a snake can be a traumatic experience for rabbit dogs and/or their human counterparts. In addition to being very painful, a bite from a venomous snake can be fatal or horribly disfiguring. Treatment for snake bites is aided by knowing the type of snake that delivered the bite, but being able to identify snakes also goes a lot way towards your safety and that of your rabbit dogs as well so you are able to decipher which snakes pose the greatest threat. There are many venomous snakes in the United States such as rattle snakes, water moccasins, corral snakes, and copperheads. Although most would rather avoid you than bite you or your dogs, some are quite aggressive and will gladly grab a hold of a nose or paw that gets too close, sinking their fangs in and injecting a dose of toxic venom.
When it comes to handling a canine snake bite, there are a lot of wives' tales floating around. For instance, you do not want to whip out your knife and cut the bite marks open and then suck the venom out. You also don't want to waste time and potential further injury by trying to capture the snake; yes, it is useful to know the species but not at your own detriment. Settle instead for taking a note of color, size, and other obvious details regarding its appearance. What you do want to do is wrap the bitten area tightly if possible and immediately transport your dog for emergency medical care. Keeping your dog is also vital as the faster his heart pumps, the faster the venom spreads
Although snake bites can become infected due to bacteria in the snake's mouth, making even a bite from a non-venomous snake dangerous, venom is the ultimate danger. Venom is a toxic fluid contained in glands within the snake that is delivered through hollow fangs during a bite. There are two types of venom: hemotoxic (destroys red blood cells and damages tissue) and neurotoxic (disrupts the nervous system). While some snakes contain either or, others yet have venom with both properties, making them especially dangerous.
Photo: Wild Texas
In order to save lives and limbs after a snake bite, antivenin and supportive care are administered. This is where it is useful to know the type of snake that delivered the bite as antivenin is specific to the species of snake that did the biting. For example, for a cottonmouth bite, cottonmouth antivenin would be necessary to reverse the effects. Though antivenin is very useful in treating bites, it is expensive. The cost can easily exceed $1,000 per vial with multiple vials being needed for a successful treatment round.
With all of this in mind, the logical thing to do is avoid snakes. While this is unfortunately not always possible as rabbit dogs are in the field doing their jobs, there are some steps you may be able to take. If you're not in the field hunting, keep dogs away from brush piles and other debris. Should your dog appear fixated with something you cannot see, call him or her back to you immediately. In the event that you hear a rattlesnake issuing a warning, keep your dog close until you locate the snake then move carefully in the opposite direction. Lastly, remember that though we as rabbit hunters enjoy a meal of rabbit, there are plenty of venomous snakes that feel the same way and are plenty large enough to take down a rabbit for a meal. Equally concerning is the snake epidemic in Florida where many exotic snakes are being released into the wild that are big enough to not only kill a rabbit dog but maybe even you.
The main thing to remember is that we have to share the great outdoors with snakes and therefore must do so safely. Be vigilant when you and your dogs are moving about so as to avoid a bite. However, for those of us who reside in areas where the weather is warm most of the year and rattlesnakes are plentiful, investing in a canine rattlesnake vaccine may prove wise. Above all else be sure to memorize your vet's phone number because like it or not, a venomous snake bite is an emergency that needs treatment immediately.
Are venomous snakes a point of concern where you live and hunt? What do you to do prevent snake bites? Let us know in the comments.