Coral Snake Venom Toxicosis in Dogs
There are two clinically important subspecies of coral snake in North America: the eastern coral snake, Micrurus fulvius fulvius, in North Carolina, southern Florida, and west of the Mississippi River; and the Texas coral snake, M. fulvius tenere, found west of Mississippi, in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Texas.
The coral snake is from the Elapidae family of venomous snakes. Elapids have fixed front fangs that are used to inject venom into their victims. The coral snake is tri-colored and can be recognized by the bands of red, yellow, and black that fully encircle the body. The coral snake can be distinguished from the similar colored but harmless tri-colored kingsnake by the arrangement of the bands: if the yellow and red color bands touch, then it is the venomous coral snake; if the red and black color bands touch, it is the non-venomous kingsnake (this rule only applies to North American coral snakes – coral snakes in other parts of the world have different patterns). In addition, the coral snake has a relatively small head, with a black snout, and round pupils.
Bites are relatively uncommon because of the snake’s reclusive and non-aggressive behavior and nocturnal habits. When injuries do occur, they often occur on the lip because an animal has gotten too close. Onset of clinical signs may be delayed several hours (up to 18 hours) after your pet was bitten. Victims develop paralysis, including paralysis of the breathing muscles. The primary cause of death is respiratory collapse.
Symptoms and Types
- Shortness of breath
- Altered voice production (inability to bark)
- Reduced spinal reflexes
You will need to give a thorough history of your dog’s health, recent activities, and onset of symptoms. Your veterinarian will need to rule out several other explanations for the symptoms before arriving at a diagnosis.
If you are sure that your dog has been bitten by a coral snake, your veterinarian will look for the fang marks so that the bite can be treated immediately and so that antivenom drugs can be given.
Your pet will be hospitalized for a minimum of 48 hours. The good news is that there is specific antivenom available. Do not try to treat your dog by yourself. If the bite is on a limb, you can tie a tourniquet around the limb above the bite, to slow the venom’s progress to the trunk of the body, but the most effective thing you can do is rapid transport to a veterinary facility (do not leave the tourniquet on the limb for a long period, as it will cut blood flow from the limb, causing further complications). If you know your pet has been bitten, do not wait for symptoms to initiate treatment. Once paralysis of the breathing muscles has taken place, your dog will be at risk of shock and even death. Snakebites are also at risk of infection, warranting antibiotics to prevent infection, and sterile dressings applied to the wound.
Living and Management
The symptoms may last for a week or a week-and-a-half. Full recovery may take months as receptors regenerate.
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