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Snake Bites: Should You Suck The Venom Out Or Not?

Last spring there was a news story about a man who said he saved his dog’s life by sucking venom from a rattlesnake bite out of the animal’s nose. After he performed this lifesaving feat and took his dog to a veterinarian, he reportedly began feeling ill himself.

It is further reported that he went to a hospital and received four vials of antivenom. The dog reportedly had its head swell up to three times its normal size and it also was administered antivenom. The man and his dog recovered.

In the summer of 1975 when I completed an externship at Fort Belknap in Harlem, Montana, we treated a couple of animals (horses and dogs) that had been bitten by rattlesnakes. When dogs are bitten on the face, the soft tissues can swell up pretty quickly. I’ve also seen this from bee stings as well. I’ve never performed mouth-to-muzzle on a dog, but I’ve heard about it. The animals can become very ill and smaller animals can certainly die from rattlesnake bites.

It’s curious that the man saving his dog required antivenom, because one doesn’t become envenomed by eating or drinking venom, which is destroyed in the digestive process. I imagine it’s possible that he had open sores in his mouth, but then he would have needed to be able to actually remove venom from his dog by sucking on the wound to get it into his mouth in the first place, which is also a long shot.

The current thinking is that mouth suction really doesn’t do anything, and in fact may be harmful (in the case of its application to a human) if it introduces harmful bacteria from a person’s mouth into an open wound. I wasn’t present, but there’s a very good chance that the antivenom really wasn’t necessary for the man who treated his dog.

(Image: Courtesy of College of Veterinary Medicine and Biological Sciences, Emergency and Critical Care Medicine, Colorado State University)

This post, Snake Bites: Should You Suck The Venom Out Or Not?, was originally published on by Paul Auerbach, M.D..

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