Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Carmella is Bitten by Nest of Copperheads

Monday night I let Carmella out in the back yard as I usually do before turning in for the night so that she could go to the bathroom. She was out there for about 15 minutes and had not come back to the door yet, so I called her to see if she was finished. She came to the back door a little more slowly than usual. Anybody who knows Carmella knows she never does anything slowly, and usually runs back inside at top speed.

As she entered the livingroom I noticed she was limping and upon closer inspection I saw that her back leg was very swollen, so much that the dewclaw on that leg stuck out. Her leg looked blown up like a balloon animal. At first I thought she had broken it, but then I saw two little puncture marks starting to bleed a few inches above the paw on the side of her leg and that's when I realized it must have been a snake bite.

Within about 10 minutes her paw was also bleeding. It was about 11:00 PM and Carmella's regular vet's office was closed. The only option was to take her to the one emergency vet in Dekalb County, and since I don't have a car and couldn't think of anybody to call at that late hour, I called the emergency clinic to confirm that I should bring her in, then called a taxi. I never know how long it will take to get a taxi late at night but  think the fact that it was a week day worked to my advantage. Had it been on the weekend it might have taken alot longer for one to arrive.

Even so, it probably took about a half-hour  and by that time Carmella was bleeding all over the kitchen floor and was starting to pant and whimper. What was coming out was more plasma than blood and it was fairly sticky. I was worried that she might collapse before a cab showed up so I called the emergency clinic back to see if they knew of any vet that made house-calls just in case things got critical and we didn't have time to get there.

The woman on the phone did locate the name of one vet but she wasn't sure if she worked late at night or not. I was hoping I wouldn't need to use that option and that we'd get to the clinic in time.

Carmella's leg was so painful I couldn't even wrap it in a T-shirt to keep dirt out of the wound.

We arrived at the emergency clinic and it seemed surprisingly quiet. There was just one dog in there other than Carmella, but it was a pretty lengthy process and after I'd filled out the paperwork Carmella and I waited for some time in a room before we finally saw the vet. Carmella was still in alot of pain and I finally had to go find someone to ask that they give her something for that. All I could think of was how the venom was still surging through her body out of control.

I think it took about 2 hours before she got any treatment after they'd prepared 3 different written quotes. Then they took her in the back area to clean the wounds, check to see how quickly her blood was clotting, give her pain medication, and some fluids under her skin.

She started whimpering when they shaved that hair on the leg where she had been bitten. The vet explained that it looked as though she had multiple bites between her toes as well as on her leg; some on both sides of the leg, and that most likely she had stepped in a nest of baby Copperheads because this is the time of year for them, and the babies tend to release all their venom unlike adults that only release a controlled amount. She said for that reason being bitten by baby snakes was worse.

Apparently there had been quite a few cases coming into the emergency clinic recently. Carmella fared better than smaller dogs because of the ratio of body weight to venom even though she probably had alot of venom in her. Even so, that was not a huge consolation because the full extent of the venom's effects would not be known until after a few days had passed. Among the risks are possible necrosis (tissue death), clotting problems, need for plasma transfusions, loss of function in the area bitten, and a whole host of other effects.

Neither human nor animal emergency departments use anti-venom for Copperheads much anymore because the side effects are almost worse than the venom. Pretty much all they can do is supportive care and hope for the best. There is no real way to prevent the effects of the venom and each dog reacts differently. Some recover completely without any necrosis, whereas others have some scarring, and still others may be severely impacted with big chunks of flesh falling off and need skin grafts to repair the damage.

The emergency clinic closes at 8:00 AM and since I knew we would need to go to Carmella's regular vet in the morning I figured it wasn't worth taking a cab back home and coming back at 8:00 to pivk her up and home again in another cab, as the faire was about $22.00 each way! I had this vet at the emergency clinic do what she could to get Carmella through the night safely and then planned to get a few hours of sleep before heading off to Dr. Norwood's office in the morning. Carmella was still in pain after she'd been given some medication and we got back home around 4 AM. She didn't want to lie down and was whimpering for the rest of the night, but finally I think we both got about 2 hours of sleep before Dr. Norwood's office opened.

When I woke up and it was quiet I tiptoed to the kitchen to check on her and make sure she was still breathing. She was but she seemed to be breathing more shallowly than usual. Knowing that somehow I was going to have to get her back into a taxi to go the the vet I slowly woke her although I hated to do that since while asleep was the only time she was not in pain. I got her to reluctantly drink a little yogurt juice (one of her favorite treats), and got the leash to try to give her time to go to the bathroom. Luckily she did get up and hobbled on three legs outside with me, peed, and came back inside. I took her out the front because I was pretty sure there wouldn't be any snakes out there near the driveway.

When I put her back inside I called the taxi and since it would be 15 minutes or so before we would be picked up I took a stick and went out the back way by myself to see if I could find where the snakes were living or whether I could find any dead snakes. I looked at nearly every corner of the yard except a pile of sticks and the outer edge near the fence on the opposite side, but saw no trace of them. Knowing Carmella I wouldn't be surprised if she ate them after they bit her. She has a strong predatory instinct and I have seen her kill small animals in about two bites and then quickly wolf them down before anyone could get them away from her; even squirrels, birds, and possoms.

I may need to find an expert to locate the den and remove them if she did not kill/eat them because I'm concerned it might happen again. It's worrisome that they may not be gone. There are a few holes in the yard; one big one under the house, and smaller ones in a few other areas of the yard where they could be hiding.

When we arrived at Dr. Norwood's office I couldn't get her to get out of the car, so the male vet tech who works there had to come out and carry her into the office. We went into a room right away and it wasn't long before several staff were in there and then Dr. Norwood came in to take a look at her.

He was very concerned; more so even than the emergency vet, and he said he thought it would be a good idea to hospitalize her and treat her aggressively with intrvenous fluids, antibotics, and prednisone. I'm not a big fan of prednisone but probably short-term it won't do Carmella any harm and it might get the swelling down more quickly. The swelling in her leg really looks extreme. If it got any worse I'd worry it would burst, and that wouldn't be good at all.

Dr. Norwood reiterated what the other vet had said about what could happen over the next few days and said that if she ends up needing a plasma transfusion they will have to take her to the emergency clinic at night to have that done because his clinic doesn't generally keep plasma on hand. It's a small office and doesn't have as many medical supplies as the larger vet's offices in town. I also recommended calling Dr. Muller at Briarcliff Animal Clinic if that ended up being necessary. That way maybe they could give or sell Dr. Norwood  the plasma to take back to his office and Carmella wouldn't have to get in and out of a car again.

I'm hoping that there won't be any complications or permanent tissue damage and that she will start healing now that she is under 24 hour care.

If everything goes well she should be ready to come home on Friday, and they'll send her home with some oral medications to continue here.

The house feels empty without Carmella, my little buddy. I'm not getting much sleep tonight. Hopefully I'll have some news tomorrow about how she's doing. To keep myself occupied I created a treasury list on snakes. Craftcult doesn't seem to be working to post it here directly, so here's a link;

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