Look out, it’s snakebite season
By Trudy Balcom
RAWLINS — Rattlesnakes are our unwelcome neighbors in Carbon County.
While people try to avoid them, pets may not recognize them as dangerous. And avoiding rattlesnakes can be difficult if they unexpectedly show up in your own yard.
Three dogs suffering from snakebite have recently been treated at Carbon County Veterinary Hospital in Rawlins, and one patient was recently treated at Memorial Hospital of Carbon County (MHCC) for snakebite.
“This is the time of year we see this happening,” said Cali O’Hare, the hospital’s director of Marketing and Communications. “We see it every year.”
O’Hare said that MHCC keeps more antivenin (more commonly referred to as ‘antivenom’) in stock than any other hospital in the state.
Although snakebites can occur almost anywhere in Carbon County, O’Hare said that victims they see in the emergency room often come from Seminoe or the Dugway recreation site northeast of Rawlins.
For humans, snakebite causes severe swelling, bruising and pain, spreading from the site of the bite. Snake venom contains hemotoxins that affect tissue and cells, and neurotoxins that affect the nervous system.
If you are bitten by a snake or in the company of someone who is, the Mayo Clinic website advises that you try to remain calm, call 911 or seek immediate medical attention.
Try to keep the area of the bite at or below the level of the heart. Remove jewelry, shoes or clothing that can become constrictive when swelling occurs. Don’t place ice on a bite or try to suck out the venom. The victim should not drink caffeine or alcohol as it will cause the venom to be absorbed more quickly.
Keeping pets safe with behavioral training
Ashlea Colson is a professional dog trainer who also assists with removal of rattlesnakes that people find in Rawlins — sometimes in their backyards. She says that there seems to be a lot of snakes in town this year. She’s been called to remove three from backyards and walking trails in town since Sunday.
“It’s been really sweet having all the snakes in town,” she said.
While most people don’t share Ashlea’s warm, fuzzy feeling about snakes, she has a good reason for them. She uses them for her business, One of a Kind Canine, which offers snake avoidance training for dogs.
Ashlea and her father, Sheriff Jerry Colson, assist with snake removal when they are called by Animal Control. But she said she has been handling lizards and other reptiles most of her life, and she keeps a pet python.
She said her interest in snakes comes from her dad.
“He’s always been a reptile guy,” she said.
Some of those rattlers Ashlea has been catching around town have a job to do, even if they don’t know it. They will become professional dog trainers themselves when they come fang-to-nose — almost — with dogs enrolled in One of a Kind Canine’s snake avoidance training class.
For the avoidance training classes, Ashlea prepares the snakes, usually with help from her family.
The fangs, (which are made up of a tissue more like fingernails than teeth, she said) are clipped, and the snakes are muzzled with electrical tape, so they can’t bite anyone — human or canine. On the day of the classes, Ashlea sets up three or four stations with these live, prepped snakes and exposes the dogs to them, one at a time.
“We try to get the dogs interested in the snake. I really want the interaction to be between the dog and the snake,” she said.
The dogs are fitted with electrical collars, and when they go after the snake, they get a harmless electrical stimulation, but it scares them.
“They don’t know what that sensation is,” she said.
When the classes are done, the snakes are returned to the wild, far from town, unharmed.
The classes are offered several times throughout the summer, depending on how many people sign up for them. The cost is $40. Ashlea recommends giving dogs a refresher course every year, and offers that training at a reduced cost.
The training, she said, is not 100 percent effective, but she said she has heard from former clients whose dogs have followed their training on the trail and avoided snakes.
Although there is no snakebite vaccine for humans, dog owners can help prepare their pets for the possibility of a rattlesnake bite with a vaccine.
Jessica Tavik, a certified veterinary technician with Carbon County Veterinary Hospital said the vaccine “helps slow the progress of the venom to the vital organs.”
That helps pet owners to gain a little more time to get their dog to the vet for treatment, particularly if the bite occurs in a remote area far from the vet hospital.
But, she said, the vaccine is not a treatment. Owners still need to bring their pet to their veterinarian as soon as possible if they are bitten.
The vaccine is administered in two doses about a month apart, so it’s best to get the first vaccination early in the season. Manufacturers of the vaccine recommend dogs receive a booster vaccination each year before rattlesnake season.
Tavik said that the treatment they offer for snakebites does not involve antivenin.
“Rattlesnake antitoxin is very expensive, and it has a short shelf life,” she said.
Instead, she said the animals are put on IV fluids to flush the liver and kidneys, and they receive steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and antibiotics.
Most dogs, she said, pull through just fine and are ready to go home in a few days. Tavik said vaccinated dogs also seem to recover from snakebites more quickly.
“We have a very good survival of dogs that are bit,” she said.