On Monday 7/29/19 three year old Rhodesian Ridgeback “Lenny” presented at VCA Lakeside Animal Hospital in Big Bear, CA with a snake bite to his front right paw. According to the owners, the group was returning to the campground after hiking in the Holcomb Valley area when Lenny encountered the snake. Lenny’s dad described the snake as very large and based on the distance between the teeth marks on Lenny’s paw, which gives an estimate of the overall snake size, this snake was indeed a large adult.
Types of Rattlesnakes
Rattlesnakes come in two major varieties: Hemotoxic and Neurotoxic. There are 10 species/sub-species in Ca. Big Bear is home to primarily the Hemotoxic variety known as the Southern Pacific Rattlesnake, which inflicts its victim with a venom bite that destroys tissues, alters how red blood cells function in the body and is very painful. Neurotoxic snakes, such as the well-known Green Mojave, contain a neurological toxin that acts upon the central nervous system by depressing important bodily functions such as heart rate and respiratory.
Upon presentation Lenny was started on fluids, pain management, antibiotics and given antivenin (for both Hemo and Neuro toxic snakes). During the first few hours of Lenny’s hospitalization he began to demonstrate symptoms consistent with both hemo and neuro envenomation. Sadly, his condition deteriorated through the night and despite everyone’s efforts by morning he was gone.
Snakes in Our Area
We post this story (with the owner’s permission) to help alert owners of our snake trends here in Big Bear. Lenny is the 6th bite we have treated at VCA Lakeside in 60 days. That does not include those that may have been treated at Bear City Animal Hospital or off mountain at the local ER facilities. All six of our bites have come from the Hannah Flats-Holcomb Valley area where it is drier and warmer. Snakes are everywhere on our mountain. Last year we had several from Sugarloaf, Erwin and Heart Bar as well. Early in the season encounters tend to be in more remote areas by hikers, bikers and trail users. As the summer heats up and water/food sources diminish we can expect to see more activity around our houses as snakes move in for water sources and the cool temps of garages, patios and grasses.
In the last three years we have seen three bites that appeared to be from some sort of hybrid (hemo & neuro) snake. Biologists have been reporting hybrid snakes in CA for many years. Green Mojaves are typical at the base of our mountain from Lytle Creek around to Johnson Valley and Yucca Valley. The Southern Pacific is the most common to our mountain. Despite popular opinion, we do not have Timber Rattlers here, they are found in the eastern regions of the US.
Please be cautious. Rattlesnakes are part of our mountain lifestyle and will continue to create a habitat where we live and recreate. Be cautious around wood and rock piles. Snakes like to sit at the edge of shade so they can easily adjust their temperature and still strike prey quickly moving by. Rattlesnakes can strike about ½ to 1/3 of their length. A four foot snake has a strike distance of about 2 feet. Strike speed is about 1 foot per second. Rattlesnakes are most active in the morning while the sun is warming the ground. Avoidance is always the best plan.
Snake Avoidance Training Video
We still recommend annual Snake Avoidance Training at the beginning of snake season (May in Big Bear, February off mountain). Rattlesnake injections are available at most veterinary hospitals to help lessen the impact of a snake bite. If your pet is bitten by a snake the most important thing you can do is calmly get to a veterinary facility. Do not attempt to render first aid. Applying a tourniquet or attempting to suction or slice the bite area has never been shown to improve outcome and more often than not either causes additional injury or delays time to treatment. Just call your vet and start heading to them.
All of us were deeply saddened by the loss of Lenny and we hope that by helping to spread the word about our “snakiest” areas we can help owners avoid potentially tragic outcomes. To Lenny’s parents…you have all our love. Rest easy, you did what you could have for Lenny.