CUMMING, Ga. — Jamie Thayer knows more about snakes than she would like.
The lesson came when her 11-year-old Golden Retriever Jesse James was bitten by a copperhead in April and is still recovering.
“Everything I’ve read says the recovery after treatment is usually only 24 hours,” Thayer said. “But Jesse is almost three months out and isn’t back to 100 percent yet.”
Jesse was bitten outside of Thayer’s home at Lake Lanier in Cumming.
“It was after dark, and we were standing near some ivy when he suddenly jumped twice,” she said.
The dog wouldn’t put pressure on his leg, and Thayer decided to take him to the veterinarian.
“We ended up going to our regular vet too, who verified Jesse was bit by a copperhead,” she said.
She said the dog appeared to be bitten twice.
“Our vet said the bites looked to be from a young snake and that they release venom differently than adult snakes,” Thayer said.
Dr. R.J. Itkin, internal medicine vet with All Pets Emergency and Referral Center, 6460 Atlanta Highway in Alpharetta, said young snakes can be just as dangerous as adult snakes.
“Their venom may not be fully developed, but multiple bites typically release more,” Itkin said. “Certainly, all snakebites must be attended to, no matter the age of the snake.”
Copperheads and water moccasins are the most venomous snakes in the state, and bites are common from late spring to early fall.
Copperheads reach about 22 inches to 36 inches long and have a diamond shaped pattern on their bodies.
They can be found in wooded, swampy areas, near pines and water.
Water moccasins, sometimes called cottonmouths, live near and in water and are about 20 to 48 inches.
They have large heads. Some have brown cross bands, but most are black.
The venom is poisonous, but Itkin said all snakebites should be looked at by a veterinarian.
“Not everyone sees the snake or knows what kind it is,” he said. “Often snakebites require stitches or other treatment, even if they’re not venomous.”
Itkin said since April, they’ve treated about 20 dogs for snakebites.
“We had six over the weekend a few weeks ago,” he said. “The weather brings them out, but if there’s a food source, they’re going to go to it, regardless of where it is.”
Thayer said Jesse’s leg turned black, and treatment included antibiotics, Epson salt soaks and rest.
“We had to help him stand to go potty, because his leg was in such bad shape,” she said.
She said her vet didn’t recommend anti-venom treatment for Jesse because of the dog’s age and possible side effects.
Itkin said anti-venom treatments like Antivenin have been successful in snakebites, but all treatment options should be decided based on the dog’s health and age.
“If a dog is not in good health, or has underlying health issues, certain treatments may exacerbate those conditions or cause a reaction,” he said.
Thayer said Jesse is an inside dog, and since the bite, she is more careful when she’s out with him.
“We stay away from ivy, and don’t walk too late at night anymore,” she said.
Protect your pet from snakes
Clear away rocks and logs from your property.
Keep dogs on a leash near water.
Check tree beds, sidewalks and beside the road where snakes sun themselves.
Use pet-friendly snake repellent.
Rid your yard of small animals like chipmunks and rats that are prey for snakes.
How to treat a snakebite
If you see the snake, snap a photo of it to bring to the vet.
Do not try to catch or kill the snake.
Isolate the area bitten and keep pet as still as possible.
Go to the nearest vet or emergency animal clinic.