Snake Bite in Camelids - 2/20/2009
by Dr. Mike Zager, DVM
Ocoee Animal Hospital - Blue Ridge, GA
LLamas and Alpacas are from time to time exposed to snakes and occasionally can be bitten. There are four types of venomous snakes found in the United States and they include the rattlesnake, copperhead, water moccasin and coral snake. The rattlesnake has the most dangerous “bite” but copperhead and water moccasin bites have also caused serious problems and some deaths. The coral snake is not considered to be a major threat to llamas or alpacas.
Snake bite wounds are often found on the head or snout area of the body as well as the legs of animals unlucky enough to have been bitten. Dr. Murray Fowler wrote that the clinical signs of snake bite generally include localized swelling at the site of the bite. Necrosis and sloughing (death of the tissue) of the skin and underlying tissue may also be seen. Bites on the legs often show swelling of the leg proxima (or above) the bite. This swelling and necrosis is due to the venom toxins the snake injects into the animal as it strikes. Bacterial infections are often a serious secondary problem and deaths have been reported due to Costridium hemolyticum infections (Animals vaccinated or immunized with an 8 way Clostridia product (Covexin 8) have some protection against clostridium hemolyticum infections). Snake bites can have an effect on the cardiovascular system, and the kidneys as well as causing swelling and breakdown or necrosis of the tissues around the bite.
Snake bites in camelids should be considered potentially very dangerous, and should be dealt with quickly with the best efforts available. The only specific treatment for “snake bite (also called envenomation)” is the administration of antivenin. Ideally two to four vials of antivenin should be given intravenously with four hours after the snake bite occurs. This is often very difficult to accomplish. Most veterinarians in the southeast do not routinely stock antivenin due to a short “shelf life”, high cost, and possible adverse reactions to the medication itself.
Now if antivenin is not readily available, the animal's owner and their veterinarian still need to react quickly to this serious problem. I have consulted with local universities and the consensus is that we need to aggressively treat the inflammation and potential infection as well as provide supportive care. We can treat the inflammation with flanixin meglamine (Banamine®). The infection can be treated with high doses of penicillin or ampacillin (Polyflex®).
Supportive care is just as important as injections of anti-inflamatories and antibiotics. We have to remember that camelids are considered “obligate nasal breathers” meaning that they breath primarily through the nose. If a snake bites an animal on the nose or face significant swelling can occur. Efforts will need to be made to maintain an open airway. Home suggestions to maintain an open airway include using drinking straws or other rigid tubes in the nostrils. If the animal is in respiratory distress, a tracheotomy may need to be done. This is a procedure where a tube is placed directly into the trachea. Wounds should be kept clean. Dead tissue should be carefully removed.
At this time, Corticosteroids and antihistamines are not recommended for camelids that have been snake bitten. It is also not recommended to cut the wound and “suck out poison” in that this causes more damage to the injured tissue and becomes predisposed to more infection. Ice Packs and tourniquets are “NOT RECCOMMENDED” to be used on camelids that have been snake bitten.
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Jack and Tracy Pearson:
Pearson Pond Ranch & Llama Co.
242 Llama Lane (Charles Lane), #6017
Ellijay, GA 30540
Phone: (706) 276-3658
Fax: (706) 276-3680