Veterinarian: Snakes biting Oklahoma dogs every day; pygmy rattlesnakes commonly the culprit

TULSA - Emergency veterinarians say they're treating dogs suffering from venomous snakebites on a daily basis.

Dr. Chris Johnson, an emergency veterinarian with Oklahoma Veterinary Specialists in Tulsa, says it's during this time of year when he can't work a 12-hour shift without seeing a canine falling victim to a snakebite.

"We see anything from water moccasins, copperheads, the occasional rattlesnake. We have seen a few more rattlesnakes recently," Johnson says.

Among the rattlesnakes the clinic has recently encountered is the pygmy rattlesnake. It's known for having a rattle that sounds similar to a cellphone vibration.

Johnson and his staff say they can quickly tell when a dog has been bitten by a snake.

"Eighty percent of the dogs that come in are bit on the face. So they have pretty significant muzzle swelling," Johnson said. "One of the things that I look for to differentiate between snakebites and non-snakebites that might look the same is their lymph nodes get really enlarged and it happens really quickly."

That was the case for Mounds resident David Bell's dachshund. Bell, who owns a ranch, says he's fought off nine rattlers in the last year and has killed some as large as 22-inches long.

"I worry more about my daughter and us being out here, playing around in the yard and something bad happening," he said.

Bell's found them in his back and front yards, as well as in his house. He says there isn't much he can too tame them in his rural part of Green Country, but he will do whatever it takes to protect his family.

"My daughter and, you know, my animals, got some baby calves out here and I just don't want to see anything bad happen to them or anybody," Bell said.

The best thing a pet owner can do, Johnson says, is to keep a dog on a leash.

"The vast majority of snakebites that I've seen are dogs that have gone chasing after these snakes and when they try to confront them they don't know that they are going to hurt them," he said. "So keep them on a leash. You can pull them back."

Johnson says there are a lot of "what ifs" when it comes to snakebites because the snake species, amount of venom injected into the dog and the size of the dog each plays a role in how severe a reaction can be.

For that reason, he says, dogs should be taken to the emergency veterinarian if they're displaying any of the aforementioned symptoms because it is possible for a dog to die from a snakebite.

The antivenin used, which Johnson says goes for about $600 a vial, can fight off poison from a number of different venomous snakes.

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