After a cool and rainy spring, our cold-blooded friends are finally out to stretch their legless bodies! Longer days and hotter temperatures mean increased activity for snakes, specifically Pit Vipers, as they seek to feed and mate after their hibernation months.
Humans and pets are also out in force with the warmer weather. Combine this with active pit vipers and there will inevitably be increased interactions and envenomations between pit vipers and our pets. Fortunately, there is good news for clinics, both large and small: Veterinary antivenin is easier to use than ever, boasts a longer shelf life, and comes at a lower cost than has been seen in decades. This episode of Critter Fixers (S3 E6 12:50) demonstrates how incredible modern antivenin is—with the patient going home the next day fully recovered after a single dose! That said, we hope this post will help educate both veterinarians and pet owners about modern antivenin and promote the best care for our furry family members.
Five common antivenin myths debunked
The veterinary antivenin market has changed a lot in the past 10 years, so here are five common antivenin myths debunked.
Myth 1: Too expensive ($300-500/dose!)
Truth: Due to increased competition in the veterinary antivenin market, costs have decreased while technology has improved. Antivenin is more affordable than ever thanks to its long shelf life (see next myth) and affordable pricing (most antivenin can be purchased by the veterinarian for $200/dose).
Myth 2: Short shelf life (1 year or less)
Truth: Thanks to massive improvements in science and technology, most veterinary antivenin has a three-year shelf life! Keeping a few doses in stock with a multiple-year shelf life is now convenient and risk-free for veterinary clinics in venomous snake territories.
Myth 3: Difficult to use and/or unsafe
Truth: When choosing an antivenin, here are some pro tips to ensure the best treatment options. Most antivenin is very straightforward to use and integrates new improvements in formulation, packaging, and product longevity. However, envenomation cases can be difficult and intimidating to a veterinarian who sees them infrequently.
First, find an antivenin manufacturer with 24/7 tech support to answer emergency questions as they arise. Second, join social media groups that offer real time advice on individual cases to the veterinarian from other licensed veterinarians (National Veterinary Snakebite Support Group on Facebook is an example). Last, modern antivenin companies all enjoy extremely high safety ratings when it comes to adverse events, with some being in the 99% percentile for safety.
Myth 4: Benadryl is a suitable treatment for envenomations
Truth: Only antivenin neutralizes venom. Benadryl is an antihistamine and is NOT effective against snakebite envenomations nor is it a viable sedative in practice. (In the event a DVM is unsure if swelling is attributable to a snakebite or bee sting, Benadryl can help rule out which event occurred. The patient’s swelling may decrease, which would indicate the patient wasn’t envenomated).
Myth 5: Antivenin only works within 24 hours of a bite
Truth: Antivenin neutralizes any venom in the circulatory system. Most antivenin manufacturers only prove efficacy within 24 hours for product labeling purposes, but anecdotal cases tell of patients showing visible improvement post-antivenin treatment outside 24 hours as antivenin goes directly to work to neutralize venom.
Snakebite envenomations are a veterinary emergency and may be intimidating to veterinarians who see them irregularly. However, thanks to modern technology, social media groups, and even antivenin locator websites (veterinarysnakebite911.com), clinicians can have the confidence and resources necessary to help treat envenomations better than ever. Is your clinic inventoried, trained, and prepared for the 2022 snakebite season?