While I was out of town running my 50 miler last month, my personal trainer and number one running partner was bitten by a rattlesnake. Cara and Maddie went to her parents’ ranch for the weekend since I was traipsing around in the mountains morning, day and night. Our dog Lucy, along with six other dogs were out on a walk with the family when Lucy started to limp while holding her front paw up. On closer inspection, the family noticed she had two puncture marks on her front leg.
This isn’t the first time we’ve dealt with a snakebite with our dogs. Several years ago one of my other running partners, Taz was also bitten by a rattlesnake while we were running Lost Dog Trail near the Cimarron subdivision in El Paso. I've since mostly kept my dogs on leash when we are out running during rattlesnake season.
Cara and her dad immediately took Lucy to the vet where they gave her pain meds and an IV to help dilute the venom. After spending the day at the vet clinic, they brought Lucy back to the ranch and then returned the next morning for more treatment. Unfortunately, she wasn’t doing so well and needed a plasma transfusion. She was suffering vasculitis, a swelling of the blood vessels and some of her blood counts were very low. The hemotoxin in rattlesnake venom destroys blood cells and tissue.
Since the vet closed at 8PM, I had to pick up Lucy and transfer her to the only emergency vet hospital in town where she was watched closely all night long. “No news is good news”, they told me when I left. Cara visited her the next morning expecting to bring her home, but she took a turn for the worse. Her gums were completely white and it looked like she might die.
The vets were working on Lucy when Cara arrived and they did everything they could including giving her oxygen, a blood transfusion and antivenom. We were just taking things one hour at a time. That evening after work, I went to visit Lucy in the hospital where she was stable, but couldn’t eat or do anything but lay quietly. I just comforted her hoping that she would make it through one more night.
Out of my three dogs, Lucy is the one that lives for running. She is part whippet and has the running gene bred into her. I can’t get a moments rest without her whining and begging to go out for a run. No wonder I run as much as I do. We’ve put in thousands of miles together over the last ten years and I can’t imagine not having her around as a running partner.
Well, the next day Lucy was cleared to leave the emergency clinic, but needed to follow up with our family vet since she had a nasty wound on her front leg and was still suffering from the vasculitis. Our vet gave her some steroids to help with the swelling of her veins and also started a series of laser treatments to promote healing and inflammation control.
I’m happy to say that, after three weeks of recovery, she is doing very well. We’ve been taking regular daily walks and she is itching to start running again. In fact, I believe she would be running now if we would let her. Her health and fitness level are what helped her pull through a tough situation.
I can only say that we are fortunate that the snake didn’t bite one of our human family members. This is something that concerns me being we spend so much time on the trail and at the ranch. Since this is the second bite, we are considering the rattlesnake vaccine for our three dogs next season.
Do you know what to do if you or your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake? It’s very simple. Stay calm and get the victim to the hospital or vet. Contrary to popular belief, people or dogs rarely die from snake bites. Lucy’s situation was serious because either she got a large dose of potent venom or because she is an older dog and had a severe reaction. Nevertheless, she survived and will have a full recovery.
Once again, if you are bitten by a venomous snake, try to stay calm and get to a hospital as soon as you can. Do not cut your skin and suck the venom out as they do in Hollywood Westerns and do not apply a tourniquet. Just go to a hospital emergency room. According to the University of Florida, your chances of dying are almost zero. You are nine times more likely to die of a lightning strike.
Even though snakebites are a medical emergency and very painful, the benefits of spending time in the great outdoors outweigh the risks. Stay alert, especially during snake season, and know that you are sharing the trail with snakes. This is their home and they mean you no harm. I’ve seen plenty of rattlesnakes while running and can always get around them with no trouble. The key is to know they are there and stay alert. STAY ALERT!
Now that the weather has turned colder, the rattlesnakes are mostly dormant, but keep this on your radar come April and May. They’ll be back and you will again need to pay closer attention when you are hiking and running.
See you on the trail.