Double Trouble

As the seasons change, the weather warms and everyone starts bringing out their beach umbrellas and pool toys. But snakes also raise their heads to enjoy the best of the South Australian warmth.

Camilla, a gorgeous British Blue has had not one but two encounters with snakes. In January 2018, the height of snake season, Camilla was rushed in for life-saving treatment with antivenin.

Being a mostly indoor cat with a luxurious life, Camilla recently braved the outdoors on a warm sunny day, returning home quiet and not herself. She was once again rushed in for treatment when she became non-responsive.

On presentation, Camilla was flat, had very wide pupils, and was unable to move her legs or lift her head. During triage, her temperature was low and she had lost all her normal body reflexes including her gag reflex (AKA vomit reflex).

Camilla's dedicated owners elected to treat her again. When an animal receives antivenin there is always a risk of them reacting and having anaphylaxis. The risk increases with previous treatment, like in Camilla's case. This is due to the body being exposed previously to a foreign protein that is found in antivenin and mounting a much bigger response.

After confirmation of diagnosis with blood tests and clinical presentation; Camilla was pre-medicated with an antihistamine to reduce her likelihood of a reaction to her vial of tiger/brown snake antivenin.

Camilla's temperature returned to normal and her ears began to flick. She finished her infusion without any reactions to the antivenin. 

It can take a long time for full function to return, even with treatment, after a snake bite. Unfortunately, antivenin is not effective for every patient, particularly several days down the track, and prognosis depends on the patient and their severity of signs on presentation. Currently, there is no way to tell how much venom has been injected into a human or animal and it may take more than one vial to bind the remaining venom in the body.

Camilla was not yet out of the woods. She was not able to blink completely and had developed eye ulcers. She was prescribed and administered eye drops every few hours along with eye medication to heal the ulcers.

After 3 days in hospital on fluid therapy and pain relief, Camilla was eating well, able to move around and urinating well. She was still not completely closing her eyes but with her improvements, she was all set to go home for continued R&R.

Snake venom binds to proteins in the body and once bound hang around for a long time. All patients that are discharged from hospital after snake bite treatment are to be kept quiet for 6 weeks as increased exercise can cause the symptoms of snakebite like paralysis to recur - this is due to the venom that is bound in the body being very slow to be eliminated.

Camilla was discharged from hospital 4 days after presentation. She spent several weeks on prescribed “bed rest” while she continued her journey to recovery.

Written by Dr Ashlee Harkins, Veterinarian.

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