Colorado: Minutes count when snakes bite |

Colorado: Minutes count when snakes bite

Helen Wolt
Colorado Springs Gazette

Karin White often finds snakes in her backyard, which borders Ute Valley Park. Usually she shovels strays into a bucket and hauls them back to park grounds.

That’s what she expected to do a few weeks ago, as her dogs pranced around a coiled baby rattler in the middle of the lawn. When her blue-heeler, Morgan, suddenly retreated into the garage, White knew something was wrong.

“She was staring off into space” as if in a trance, White said.

Immediately, she took Morgan to the veterinarian. By the time they arrived, the dog’s face was swollen, and she “looked like a polar bear,” White said.

White’s quick thinking speeded Morgan’s recovery and may have saved her pet’s life.

With early treatment, Morgan was back home within 24 hours. The medical costs were more than $1,000 and could have been higher with complications.

Snake sightings rise during spring and summer. Hikers and pets are spending more time outdoors, and snakes are venturing out of their dens for food and water. Knowing how to avoid snakes, and what to do in the event of an encounter, is useful for anyone who treks through Colorado’s landscape, experts say.

Dr. Karlin Erk, White’s veterinarian at Belcrest Animal Clinic, says minutes count after a snake strike.

“Seek immediate vet care. Don’t wrap it, suck it, or lance it,” he said.

The severity of a bite depends on the amount of venom released by the snake, and the size and health of the pet, Erk said. Usually, tissue damage is the only complication, although about 20 percent of bites are fatal.

Venomous bites are “excruciatingly painful,” Erk said. Treatment begins with pain medication and antibiotics.

Anti-venom may be called for in extreme cases; costs range from $500 to $600 per vial, and more than one vial may be needed for large animals.

Feline cases are more severe because cats usually are smaller than dogs.

The best treatment is prevention.

Joan Sousa, park interpreter at Garden of the Gods, where snakes are common, advises walkers and dogs stay on the trail. Bushes and tall grass are favorite spots for snakes.

Off the trail, dogs scouting through the terrain may surprise snakes.

“Keep them on a leash, and keep them close to you,” said Colorado Division of Wildlife reptile and amphibian coordinator Tina Jackson. “Know where they’re putting their paws and noses.”

Snakes can be found sunning themselves in the open, or on dry, rocky ledges. They are attracted to water, and places where rodents congregate.

Snakes are shy by nature.

“They want to hide. Striking is their last choice,” Jackson said. If they are threatened, their first defense is to coil and freeze.

“If you come across a snake, give it space, and back away,” Jackson said. “Leave it alone.”

Living near open space, as Karin White does, makes it difficult to avoid reptile encounters.

Morgan, within a couple of days after the bite, was back to her “normal, bossy self, ” White said.


“Rattlesnakessss” a free presentation by the Snake Lady will debunk common myths. 1:15 Wednesdays, reservations are not required. Garden of the Gods Visitor Center 1805 N. 30th St. Information: 634-6666 for more information.

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