A word of warning-dogs and snakes

Cappuccino Dorey - much loved - greatly missed

Cappy (short for Cappuccino – you can tell our family has several Java Junkies in it :-) was a smooth fox terrier – a foxie with a big nose, we liked to say.

When it came to obedience, he was a complete and absolute failure! He was as strong-willed as any dog I’ve ever known and once he got something into his head, it was really hard to convince him otherwise.

But when it came to being sweet, protective and loving, he had it all.

Cappy was less than 2 years old when he died this past Friday, October 15th.

What has this got to do with vaccination? Absolutely nothing. But we’ve lost a beloved member of our family and I felt it was important to share some of this information because his death might have been prevented if I’d had more knowledge and hopefully, this might save someone else from losing a beloved pet – or even a beloved partner, child or other relative.

Foxies are known for being great ratters and snake killers. Cappy killed his first brown snake (about 1m long – an immature snake, no doubt about it) when he was only a few months old. I remember him bailing up a carpet snake under our house a few weeks later in the middle of the summer heat and barking incessantly for hours and hours. It drove us nuts but he was doing what nature told him to do.

On Thursday last week, my husband Ken was down on the farm with Cappy (he always took him when he could because Cap would have the best time chasing rabbits and rats, trying unsuccessfully to catch birds and jumping into every single water hole and drain along the way, coming home filthy and stinking but very happy more times than not).

We had some serious wind-storms over the last week and some of the young macadamia trees that had recently been planted had blown over and needed to be staked upright again.

Cappy was keeping Ken company when a 1 1/2m brown snake came by. Cappy attacked it – Ken isn’t sure if it was trying to get away or coming closer – but he was sure that Cappy got bitten at least once – maybe more times. He shook the snake and did manage to kill it – perhaps saving Ken from being bitten. Ken says that the dog was dragging his back legs after that and appeared to become paralysed so he picked him up and brought him home.

As soon as I saw them on the 6-wheel motorbike coming back from the farm – Cappy in Ken’s lap instead of on the seat next to him as he always is – I knew something was wrong. Ken put Cappy on the floor and he just ran off – happy as Larry.

This is when I made a big mistake! I assumed that he had either not been injected with venom (maybe the snake had just bitten something else) or that Cappy had somehow managed to get rid of the venom or was immune.

I watched him for an hour or so and he was fine. But then, I had to go out for a while and when I got back about 2 hours later. My daughter Annie was on the floor with Cappy and he was having trouble walking – he was very jerky and there was so much blood in his mouth he was swallowing constantly. It terrified me!

Straight away, I went to the internet and started looking up treatments for brown snake bites. I called the local vet who told me that it was too late at that point for anti-venom. But I read about vitamin C – especially IV Vitamin C – being a great treatment so we put a heaping spoonfull into a glass of water (there would have been 8 or 10 grams in there) and started spoon feeding him because he couldn’t lap water properly.

The vet said that fluids were really important so we made up an electrolyte solution with honey and salt and alternated spo0nfulls of that with the vitamin C. The bleeding was getting worse and I was able to get onto the local homeopathic vet who had been out. She recommended homeopathic phosphorus and after just one dose, the bleeding stopped completely – it worked like a charm! But his paralysis was getting worse.

Ken and I sat with Cappy for ages as little by little, he was no longer able to wag his tail, move his ears or even blink his eyes. My daughter Annie gave me a break and kept on giving him the vitamin C until about 1:30 in the morning when he was no longer able to swallow.

The next morning, the vet came out early and recommended IV fluids with a high dose of IV Vitamin C. She administered this and as soon as the C started to go in, Cappy started to move around after being completely paralysed for hours at this point in time. We thought that might have done the trick, but the damage from the venom must have been too advanced because within about 3 hours of that dose of vitamin C, our little Cappy was gone.

The word of warning is this – don’t think that because a dog seems to recover quickly, they are out of danger. I have done some research on this since this time (I wish I’d looked into it years ago – we have brown snakes here all the time in hot weather and it was always a risk) and have discovered that it is not unusual for there to be a period as long as 2-3 days after a snake bite before the venom affects the nervous system. There are stories of dogs (and people!) being completely fine and then, dropping dead within minutes of symptoms appears hours or days after a bite.

If I had known about this, I would have taken him straight to the vet for treatment. I trusted that his being OK meant that he had somehow escaped the venom.

Our family misses Cappy something awful and I’m hoping that this story will help some other family if they are ever in the same situation.

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Public Officer - Australian Vaccination-skeptics Network, Inc.
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21 Responses to A word of warning-dogs and snakes

  1. OMG…. this is so irresponsible. I have had both my terriers bitten and checked them over and there were fang wounds. IF IN DOUBT.. TREAT!. I had both my dogs treated, both survived. sorry, but if you had treated him appropriately you would have at least given him the best chance at surviving. As it was he had no chance.

  2. Micheal says:

    Well said, Chrisvet.

  3. chrisvet says:

    If you had any understanding of how envenomation causes the symptoms it causes, you would understand that vitamin C WOULD NOT WORK in curing snake bite.

    You can say that the reason there are no studies is because big pharma are blocking it – as someone who works in veterinary research, that is NOT the reason – the actual reason is that you would never get an ethics committee to agree to allow you to envenomate live animals and try to cure it with vitamin C. Plain and simple. If you cannot justify it on a molecular biology level (which it cannot be) there is no chance whatsoever in being allowed to test it on animals. It would be cruel and unethical. Its not about someone having money to do the trial – its about the ethics behind it. I stress again, you would never find a responsible ethics committee that would pass such research proposals.

    There is also a huge difference between vitamin C working as an antioxidant and helping boost the immune system, and it binding with venom proteins at the site of the neuromuscular junction to stop the symptoms. The two are in no way similar.

    Yes, antivenom can cause anaphylactic reactions. Yes, it can cause kidney damage. But with careful and responsible veterinary management, both these risks can be minimized. And the majority of victims, with prompt treatment, can be saved.

  4. Susan says:

    Difficult to do first aid for a snake bite on the neck – clearly you can’t use a compressive bandage there – you can only really do that on the limbs.

    The best thing to do in that case, until you can get antivenom in, is to keep the pet as quiet and still as possible – to avoid increasing circulation of the venom.

    Thanks for the references above – I’ve looked at them and I would have to honestly say that they do not support any evidence for Vitamin C in snake envenomation.

    In this case, we can’t say that the studies aren’t being done because of lack of a profit angle – there are plenty of studies on the benefit of aspirin in vascular disease and clotting – and aspirin is an over-the-counter and very cheap drug.

    In this case, it’s simply the case that, chemically, there is no reason why Vit C should be able to inactivate a range of venom proteins. So, why would someone come up with money to test something that doesn;t appear to logically apply to the biological system being tested? WHy would Vit C be any more likely to work in this situation than, say, Vit B, or iodine, or any other chemical. You could say that we can’t say that those wouldn’t work because they haven’t been tested but, in all honesty, tests are only going ot be done where there is some logic to the test.

    We might just have to accept that, in this case, (and despite good motivation) the Vit C proponents might have been on the wrong track.

    • shotinfo says:

      Thanks very much for getting back Susan. I disagree that we need to close to door on the possibility that vitamin C can possibly assist with snakebite, but we can disagree on issues, it’s fine – we don’t always have to agree with each other, right? I would like to see more information gathering though of course, we could not run clinical trials on an issue like this.

      I do miss my little puppy very much and wish that I had known more about the potential for a temporary remission after a snake bite (one of these sites mentioned that) so I would have gotten him into the animal hospital straight away. But in any case, hopefully, this blog will help others who may find themselves in a similar boat.

  5. Susan says:

    I am a real dog lover and sympathise greatly with the loss of a loved family pet.

    I would like to share with other dog owners, however, some information about the nature of snake-bite and its treatment.

    Different snakes have a range of different toxins in their venom – some cause muscle damage, some affect the nervous sytem, some interfere with blood clotting. Antivenom works by specifically targetting the proteins in that particular venom (or mixed antivenom if the snake is not identified – so-called “polyvalent”. The antivenom is made by immunising horses with sub-toxic doses of the snake venom, and extracting the antibodies they produce. Those specific antibiodies then attach to the venom molecule and inactivate it.

    Therefore, there are two main reasons why there have been no scientific trials of Vitamin C. The first is that, knowing the mechanism of envenomation and knowing the chemistry of ascorbic acid, it doesn’t make sense chemically that Vit C would have any effect on venom proteins. Secondly, because there are so many types of venom that affect different parts of the body, it does not seem logical to target them all with a single chemical.

    There is information in the veterinary literature about this. The data shows that many bites are not fatal – either the snake doesn’t inject any venom, it may be a non-venomous snake, or the dose injected may be sub-lethal. The only way to be confident that Vit C had an effect on this condition would be to give it to animals that had been injected with known amounts of venom, and see the results. No vet would now do this type of trial – it would be considered unethical to withold antivenom – if it were available.

    Most of the case reports and opinions relating to Vit C come from a long time ago, when physiology and the chemistry of the body was less well understood. These reports came from well-motivated people, but that doesn’t mean they were right.

    Australia is a centre of active research about snake venom, as we have many of the most venomous snakes in the world. The researchers area earnestly working to find out what they can to save lives. For example, some of the recent research relates to whether adrenaline and steroids have any supplementary use – together with antivenom treatment. Both adrenaline and steroids are old, cheap, common drugs – they are not driven by any “Big Pharma” influence or profit motive. If there were a logical reason why vitamin C would be effective, there is not reason why they would ignore it.

    If a snake bite happens to your pet or any family member, the important things to do are:
    1. Keep the pet/person quietly resting – moving the affected part will only increase the circulation of the venom
    2. Apply a firm bandage (again, to restrict venom movement in the tissues); and
    3. Go as quickly as possible to somewhere that keeps antivenom. When there, do your best to describe what type the snake might have been, or its location and appearance.

    • shotinfo says:

      Thanks so much for the information Susan. I contacted my vet straight away but she was not available and then, when Cappie seemed to be getting better, I figured that perhaps the snake hadn’t injected any venom when it had bitten him. My biggest mistake was not realising that his improvement meant nothing. I would have gone on to another vet if that had been the case. Then, when the symptoms struck, I was told by the vet that it was too late for anti-venom. Maybe this was the wrong advice?

      One thing I would like to know is – we could not find where the snake had bitten him but suspected that it was on his neck. How would a pressure bandage be applied in that case? We knew for sure it was a brown snake – there was no doubt about that – and we tried to keep him quiet.

      As for vitamin C – there is so much evidence of its effectiveness as both an anti-viral and detoxifier – but this evidence is completely and absolutely ignored. Read Dr Levy’s book on Vitamin C – I don’t have the name here but it’s fairly recent. A quick search of the internet has turned up these sites – some saying that Vitamin C works – some, that it doesn’t. I believe that this information requires further study but the problem is – since drug companies don’t make a profit from vitamin C and studies like these are expensive to run, we have a situation where the information is mainly anecdotal and will remain anecdotal until someone comes up with the cash to do the necessary investigation.

      http://www.lowchensaustralia.com/health/vitc.htm

      http://www.sustainable-gardening-tips.com/Dog-Snake-Bite.html

      http://www.naturalpaws.com.au/snake-bite-usefulinfo-69-false.html

      http://www.vicboxer.com/articlethree.html

      Another instance of undone science and until the science is done, we can’t say it doesn’t work.

  6. clare says:

    I am really sorry about the death of your dog – I am a great dog lover wiath 2 of my own. My understanding is however that antivenom treatment can be given reasonably successfully regardless of the time between bite and treatment (within reason obviously) I have a great vet who I ring for advise whenever I am worried. I trust them more than I trust the internet.

  7. Susan says:

    It would be difficult to postulate that a single chemical (ascorbic acid, Vitamin C) could be effective for all snake bites because the various snakes venoms contain different types of toxins. SOme cause bleeding, some break down muscle, some attack the nervous system.

    The effect of antivenom (produced by vaccinating horses with non-lethal doses and collecting the antibodies they produce) is to specifically neutralise the type of venom from the specific snake. IF the type of not know, so-called polyvalent antivenom contains a mixture of antibodies.

    As Andrew said, the animals who have been thought to have been saved by Vit C might well have recovered anyway – certainly not all envenomations are fatal. I have looked for evidence of Vit C’s effectiveness, and find only case reports – not studies. Knowing the chemistry of Vit C and the nature of the venoms, it is hard to see how Vit C could be effective.

    Does anyone know a proposed mechanism for how it might work?

    (Or maybe should be post a graph for the number of fatal snake-bites against the development of anti-venom?)

  8. Michael says:

    Tad hypocritical shotinfo to be suggesting that Andrew should cite studies that prove no effect of Zero effect. Could you show studies showing “large number of people who have had animals saved by Vitamin C”. Your statement is not enough, please provide proof.

  9. Micheal says:

    Oh… and lack of proof of effectiveness is not the same as proof of lack of effectiveness.

  10. Micheal says:

    Shot info,
    what is a better question is where is the proof that it does work, when there are so many “tales” that it does work? A great little project for an honours student, I’d say. For something to be researched, it needs to be plausible. I suspect that’s why the study hasn’t been done. I’ve searched Medline, but just tells us there’s no human studies. I don’t have access to vetinary literature though.
    If you like, why don’t you invest your own money and sponsor a study? It’s not that hard to do. You’d need ethics approval, access to animals, and lots of money. You know, like the money “big pharma” invests? Ethics approval may be the stumbling point though. Before a committee will agree, they must have some notion that it is worthy of study, such as a basic scientific understanding that the method of interaction of drug A and snake bite venom is plausible. In the case of vitamin C, it’s lacking. It’s just not plausible. But let’s say that they do approve it anyway. Inject 10 dogs with snake venom, and inject 5 with control and 5 with ascorbic acid. What have you got to lose? Five dogs, I’d be guessing.
    Fairly basic epidemiological principles put the burden of proof on the drug company, or in this case, anyone who thinks that vit C has a role to play. So where’s your proof? A number of case reports, biased in just so many ways. Case reports aren’t proof – they’re simply tales. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying they didn’t happen, I’m just saying that they don’t constitute proof. I’m trying to educate you, and not judge you.
    Please post this, or email me directly and I’ll show you some other epidemiological holes that people fall into. One is to read moderated blogs that publish biased posts.
    Michael.

  11. Andrew says:

    Vitamin C has been clinically proven to have ZERO affect on snakebite in animals (or humans for that matter). Around 30% of bitten dogs will recover naturally, usually due to a low amount of injected venom. Other cases of survival attributed to Vitamin C are generally due to a dry bite (no venom), a non-venomous snakebite (tigers and browns are often confused with non-venomous or low-toxicity species), or no bite at all (tick infestation can be confused with snakebite symptoms). Vitamin C injections also have a fairly high chance of causing an abscess, which although normally harmless will need to be treated.

    Antivenom, on the other hand, has a success rate of around 75-90%, and if administered quickly is almost always successful. Less than 1% of cases will have an adverse reaction to the antivenom.

    Bleeding from the mouth is not a typical symptom of a brown snake bite, so either your dog bit it’s own tongue (likely due to muscle tremors), or it was not a brown snake. If it was a tongue bite, then it should have healed relatively quickly (I can assure you the ‘homeopathic medicine’ you gave it, which is 100% water, did not help one bit). A temporary restorative affect is also normal after injection of IV fluids (saline would have had an identical affect to the Vitamin C), but this will be short lasting and not indicative of any cure.

    If you suspect your dog has been bitten by a snake, proper procedure to maximise the chances of survival are as follows: apply pressure to the limb (if bitten on a limb) to minimise the spread of the venom. Keep the animal hydrated, still and calm, and IMMEDIATELY take to the nearest vet for treatment. The vet can then test the dog for venom, to both ensure that it IS an actual snakebite, and the ascertain what type of snake it was. The correct antivenom will then be administered if necessary. Follow these steps and your pet will most likely survive.

    Interestingly, antivenom is made by.. vaccination!

    • shotinfo says:

      Andrew – can you please cite studies that prove ZERO affect of vitamin c on snakebite? Your statement is not enough, please provide proof. Especially in the face of the large number of people who have had animals saved by Vitamin C. Show your evidence.

  12. Micheal says:

    Sorry to hear about your loss. We all miss our dogs…

  13. Ben Pyke says:

    The same is true with head injuries. If you get concussion, you need to see a doctor. There may be blood building up somewhere in your brain. My mum knew a window-cleaner who hit his head on the side of a building one day. He had concussion, but laughed it off. A couple of days later he said he felt weird then dropped dead a few seconds later.

  14. Nerida says:

    So sorry to hear about your dog! It’s especially sad when they are so young. My brother has a Jack Russell, and the dog has been known to go for the red-bellied black snakes that appear in their yard (I’m sure there are brown snakes also), so I’m going to make sure he knows what can happen.

  15. Laurel says:

    my sincere condolences,
    I also live in dread of my 4 big hounds finding a tiger or brown here.
    I read Pat Coleby on Vit C and keep 2 full bottles in the fridge at all times, I have a horse too, so hence 2 bottles.
    Immediate Intramuscular is better than oral, but you use what you have.
    I thank you and your vet for the Homoeopathic Phosphorus hint, I will grab some of that now also.
    remember an honest vet saying that the antivenine often causes death ..from memory it may trigger heart attack? nice if your vet could advise?
    many ridicule VitC saying it cant nullify a toxin, but Pat Coleby has proven success with live victims, inc a champion Racehorse I read.
    Laurel

  16. Ann says:

    Hi Meryl and family, I am so sorry to hear of your loss. Dogs truly are gifts to us and they bring us so much unconditional love and loyalty.Thank you for sharing this very sad story in the hope that it might help someone else in this situation.
    Also, can I say, please be encouraged that our heartfelt thoughts are with you though this very public debate and the unbelievable victimisation to you and injustice to the AVN.
    I admire you as a person, your amazing work and your devotion.
    Sincerely, thank you.
    Ann

  17. Michele says:

    Oh we feel for you and your family…
    we have two old dogs who put up with so much from my ASD kids they rock and we love them…for many years they were catching and killing tree snakes and carpet snakes, occasionally get hit and hurt…then..
    one afternoon in the school holidays I had 8 neighbourhood kids running around our yard( it was the place to be) the neighbour were cutting the cane, my dogs went crazy…they had caught and killed a taipan! Kids safe and dog not harmed ( had they been practicing on the non venemous crittered previously?)
    Life with dogs is no life I want.
    Michele

    • shotinfo says:

      Thanks so much Michele. It is really very sad. He drove me mad a lot of the time because he was so stubborn (we were very similar really… :-) but I miss him something awful. He was too young and it was such a waste. Anyway, sounds like your fellas are very special too. And a taipan! Wow! Dogs are a lot smarter then we give them credit for…

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