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Articles by Dr. Tesluk

THE MEMORIAL DAY VIPER
 

Stephen Tesluk, DVM

 

 

            Memorial Day marks the beginning of the summer season for many Oregonians.  Most people associate events like cookouts, boating and camping with the holiday weekend.  But for Sandy Patrick, Memorial Day will forever be associated with snakebites.

            It all started one Memorial Day weekend several years ago when my pager went off – as happens occasionally on holidays.  The answering service informed me that a rattlesnake had bitten Tuck, one of Sandy Patrick’s Jack Russell terriers. 

            I got Sandy on the phone.

            “Tuck was in the backyard and got bit on his leg about 15 minutes ago.  It’s swollen up and bleeding, and he won’t let me touch it,” she cried.

            “Bring him down to the clinic; Ill meet you there” I told her.

            I was hoping Tuck had received a dry bite (one of the 25 to 50 percent of rattlesnake bites that deliver little or no venom), but from Sandy’s description I knew different.

            I was glad we always had a bottle of rattlesnake antivenin at the hospital.

            When Sandy arrived, I explained to her how the venom could affect Tuck.  “The toxin damage the heart and can cause bleeding problems.  We will draw blood so we can assess Tuck’s current status, and we will start treatment with the antivenin immediately.”

            “What is the antivenin?” she asked.

            “It is concentrated antibodies to the toxins,” I replied.  “These antibodies will find the toxin in Tuck’s body and neutralize it.  It will greatly shorten the time Tuck is in the hospital and significantly lower Tuck’s risk of serious complications.”

            We administered the antivenin, and Tuck went home the next day with normal blood tests and a course of antibiotics.  A week later, Tuck’s wound had healed and there were no signs of any lingering effects.

            “Did you ever get that snake?” I asked.

            “No,” Sandy replied. “It was gone by the time I got outside and we haven’t seen it since.  I figure it’s long gone by now.”

            I had all but forgotten about Sandy and Tuck’s case, until I was abruptly reminded one year later when my pager went off again – on Memorial Day weekend. “Sandy Patrick’s dog got bit by a snake,” the operator said.

            “Is this déjà vu or what?” I wondered.  Everything was the same as it had been a year ago, except this time it was Sandy’s other Jack Russell, Roll that had been bit.

            “You know, I think it was the same snake, and he got away again,” Sandy groaned.  We gave another bottle of antivenin, and witnessed another full recovery.

            Since then, other Memorial Day weekends have come and gone without a repeat performance by the Memorial Day viper.  But for dogs like Tuck and Roll, there is a newly available rattlesnake vaccine on the market.

            The vaccine works by educating the dog’s immune system so that it makes its own anti-venom antibodies; they are ready to neutralize the toxins in case of snakebite.

            The dogs that would benefit most from this vaccine are those that live in isolated areas that have rattlesnake population or dogs that accompany their owners on backpacking trips.  For these dogs, the vaccine could make the difference between life and death.

            Even with vaccination, a rattlesnake bite should be considered an emergency and the owner should seek care as soon as possible.

            However, vaccinated dogs are far less likely to require antivenin – which costs around $500 a bottle – and far less likely to experience the more serious complication of rattlesnake bites.  And that may be reason enough for many dog owners in Southern Oregon to consider the rattlesnake vaccine.




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