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Saturday, November 21, 2015

When you track wounded deer with a dog in snake country: safety tips

By Jerry Gregston

Recently there was a question posted on the United Blood Trackers Facebook Group from a prospective buyer of a dachshund puppy. He is located in nothern Texas and was concerned about getting a small sized dog because of possibility of running into a snake.

Jerry Gregston from SW Oklahoma wrote this article to address questions that had been raised raised. Thank you Jerry!

First of all, the disclaimer. I am neither a veterinarian nor a herpetologist, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night! I am just a guy who dearly loves his tracking dog. A snake bite is something that could happen where we track, and I didn't want to get caught off guard. So, I did something anyone could do, I began to research, ask for info, and quiz those in the know. Any information contrary to or in addition to the following, I would very much like to hear, as this is again just a layman's perspective.

In our area (SW Oklahoma) poisonous snakes come in the form of rattlers (Western Diamondback), water moccasins, copperheads and coral snakes, and unless you are very lucky, these, plus or minus a few indigenous to your particular area, can cause a big time bump in the road that leads from the hit site to that prized animal the dog/handler team is trying to find. There are several weapons in the anti-snakebite arsenal. I will touch on some, and ultimately each handler will need to pick and choose what seems most reasonable and affordable for their needs.

Snake Clinic/ Avoidance Training: This is a training that actually can stop a bite before it happens. No treatment can compare with not being bitten in the first place. The use of a shock collar when the dog approaches a de-fanged poisonous snake leaves a lasting impression. Finding a clinic in your area can be a problem, and it can be a little tough for the handler to watch, but this is a "tough love" decision that has to be considered.

Anti-Venom Injection: This is given to the dog in the event of a bite (usually when arriving at the vet), and in actuality, the dog will likely get several of these injections depending on the severity of the bite. The downside here is, yes, you can carry it with you to administer immediately, but the drug is expensive and short lived (it will be out of date by next season). Note: if purchased online be careful of expiration dates and on dosage as there are different strengths and dosage is dictated by the size of the dog.

Snake Vaccine: There is available now, a snakebite vaccine. This vaccine does not prevent problems from a bite, but makes symptoms less severe.  Although vet opinions here varied, it was described to me as being as if the dog has had one injection of anti-venom when the bite occurs. Obviously that would be a worthwhile thing and would buy some time as you headed for the nearest vet. There are several drawbacks to the vaccine. It's expensive and not permanent (boosters are necessary). It is snake specific. Right now the vaccine is aimed at the Western Diamondback, so it does not protect against all poisonous snakes.

Kevlar Vests: I researched and purchased a Kevlar vest which is used mostly to protect terriers from hog cuts. It fit my Cletus (wirehaired dachshund) fairly well, and it covers the chest and most of the body. Most bites seem to occur on the face and legs, and  while these bites look almost instantly terrible, the consensus of opinion is these are bites a dog can get over, but a bite to the chest or body is much more serious/deadly (there is good info on dog size related to use in snake country in John's book). I was assured that it would stop a snake bite or an errant antler although to date we have experienced neither. We used the vest in place of the harness (has a large D ring in middle of back) in the warm months when snakes were more active. Downside here is that while it is adjustable, it seemed a little cumbersome or restrictive for Cletus and it was hot to wear in the already hot weather.

Snake Bite Protocol for Dogs: OK, we're tracking down that buck of a lifetime and the dog gets what? Consensus is stop tracking and give the dog 25mg of benadryl and 5mg of prednisone (20 lb dosage, and the anti-venom if you are carrying it) and get to the vet ASAP. Carry the dog if possible and keep him as calm as possible. Note: a great thing to know ahead of time when you are out of your neck of the woods is the nearest available vet.

Snake Bite Protocol for Handlers: OK, we're tracking down that buck of a lifetime, the dog just makes the snake mad as he goes by and the snake takes it out on the handler (or hunter) what? Try to remain calm and remove any jewelry or tight clothing. Position the bite below heart level as much as possible. Do NOT cut or flush the wound and do NOT use a tourniquet or ice. A photo or detailed description of the snake is very helpful, but don't try to catch it. And, no, do Not take your dog's benadryl and prednisone! Now get to an ER ASAP! You know where the nearest ER is.....right?

Decide what meets your needs according to the level of threat where you will be tracking and what your budget will allow. Make yourself be prepared for something you hope never happens.

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