Sirius - the Snake Charmer!
by Dr Richard Lucas
Sirius is a lovely big dog who has a penchant for keeping snakes away from her humans' house. She usually does this very well and earlier this spring seemed to show her proficiency again by despatching a Tiger Snake from near the house.
What a good dog!
Why oh why did she start looking quiet, not being playful and looking weak 4 days later?
Sirius came in because she was getting weaker. We took one look at her and were concerned enough to admit her to hospital to run some blood tests. Within 1 hour of being here she could no longer walk! What was going on? We questioned her human's carefully about access to snakes and poisons and no she hadn't been near a snake for 4 days and there were no other poisons down.
By that first evening she was getting progressively weaker despite supportive care and we had to take the step of giving her snake anti-venom.
Now snake bites usually cause a problem within a few minutes to a few hours of being bitten, but there have been a few reported cases of delayed onset of about 1 day. 4 days seemed way too long, but there was no other possibility.
Sirius was so weak she couldn't walk and let me tell you carrying a 42kg dog around is not much fun! She was drooling lots and not drinking or eating.
We took some X-Rays and found her muscles were so weak that her oesophagus (or gullet) had also become paralysed so that she could actually swallow and push any food or water to her stomach. It would sit in her chest and then leak up and out her mouth. Unfortunately some also leaked down into the airways and she developed an aspiration pneumonia.
Things were getting serious for Sirius!
So some creative thinking and a bit of carpentry and we rigged up an elevated bed for her to lie on. We also installed an oesophagosotomy tube under anaesthetic. This is a tube that goes through the side of the neck into the oesophagus and then down inside the oesophagus to the stomach. This tube bypasses the mouth and larynx (start of her airways) and allowed us to feed and water her directly into her stomach.
So with the feeding tube in place and a raised bed to lie on after feeding, we were able to feed her, get the food ito her stomach and then allow her body to move the food out of her stomach into her intestines. Then she was safe from leaking the food back out of her mouth again.
Slowly over the 5 nights she was hospitalised, she slowly increased her strength but she still wasn't able to walk herself when her owners took her home, with elevated bed and feeding tube to continue nursing her there.
It took another 2 days before she was getting up better by herself to urinate. And another 12 days before we were happy to remove the feeding tube after X-Rays showed her oesophagus had returned to normal.
Sirius the Snake Charmer is now back to her normal happy self! Hopefully now she will leave the snakes alone!
Complications after snake bites are common. Following Tiger Snake bites, a dog's oesophagus can be paralysed for up to 6 weeks. They can also develop kidney failure and prolonged weakness from the massive muscle damage that occurs with Tiger Snake bites. Sirius case was really unusual because she had no access to a snake for 4 days.
Happily for Sirius, the serious syndrome was solved!
(This is the raised ramp bed that Dr Richard made for Sirius
you can see her feeding tube laying across her back)
Thank you so much to Sirius' family for allowing us to share her story, but also for being so supportive during her illness.