Case Study: Dog Bit by Snake

After enjoying a refreshing dip in the cool creek on a hot summer day, my little family of three hiked back up the mountain to our home. While making our way through tall grass, the inevitable happened: my dog, Zygo, was bit by a Copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix). I didn’t see the snake, and she didn’t yelp or jump, but as we walked along, she got uncharacteristically tired and was stopping to sit every 10 feet. Not knowing what was wrong, we began carrying her. Very quickly, the left side of her snout began to swell, and I thought, “Oh shit, snakebite!” Sure enough, two small puncture wounds, about an inch apart, became visible next to her nose.

Where we live, the Copperhead population is prolific and we see them all the time. Just over the ridge from our place, a whole holler is named for the Copperhead. Rattlesnakes live here too, but are not seen very often. This is why I assume Zygo met a Copperhead, even though I didn’t see the snake. 

Copperheads are pit vipers, along with rattlesnakes. I have heard so many myths and theories about Copperheads and their bites, it is hard to know what it actually true. All snakes, especially venomous ones, are too often misunderstood and despised in the modern human mindset. In areas of this country there are rattlesnake roundups, where thousands of snakes are captured for a mass killing that includes gross spectacles of snakes with mouths sewn shut for photo opts or snake skinning contests. In these snake prisons, you can hear thousands of rattles, which is the snakes’ equivalent of a fearful scream. As someone who is desperately trying to unlearn the hateful lessons of my culture, I am in the process of reconciling my relationship with snakes. Rattlesnakes are featured in a new book, Carnivore Minds, by G.A. Bradshaw (1). This important book merges studies of ethology with psychology and neuroscience to paint a more accurate picture of the social and emotional lives of animals labeled as dangerous and cruel. I was touched by the stories of rattlesnake relationships shared in the chapter, and inspired to spend more time appreciating these neighbors of mine. (The awesome photo below shows a mama Copperhead and her babies. I found it online and do not know who to credit.)

Copperhead venom is rarely fatal, though I have heard accounts of small dogs dying from the bites, including one case this past spring in my aunt’s neighborhood. Dogs seem to handle these bites better than humans, but even us two-leggeds typically have a full recovery after a longer period of time. Everyone always says that Copperheads do not want to bite you, but only will as a last resort; like if you step on them or curiously sniff them with your cute little doggie snout. The Copperhead has amazing camouflage and trusts in this protection, only striking as a last-ditch defense. And even when they do bite, they apparently often give a warning bite with a small amount of venom. There are many cases where the bites are completely dry. Thank you Copperheads; we humans don’t deserve your gentleness!

Despite knowing all this, I have still felt nervous about snakebites, dreading what seems to be unavoidable in these parts. But it happened, and we survived, and I thought it might be helpful to share a little write-up about this case study. In the weeks prior to Zygo’s bite, I had a close call with a Copperhead, and felt inspired to put together a snakebite kit for our holler, complete with a written protocol for humans and dogs. That way, if someone were to get bit while I’m away (or if I get bit and freak out), my thoughts would be right there with everything needed.

We opted out of veterinary care because there isn’t a whole lot more they offer besides IV fluids and doggie pain meds (and an expensive bill). They do not use anti-venoms for dogs in our area. With this in mind, I thought Zygo would be more comfortable at home, so we cared for her using:

  • Liquid Benadryl
  • Echinacea tincture 
  • Vitamin C
  • Skullcap tincture
  • Cleavers tincture
  • Raw eggs

Below I will share how it all played out. The dosing amounts were decided because Zygo weighs 35lbs. If you reference this protocol, consider how much the dog weighs and adjust accordingly. Also, use common sense and your own research, of course. I share my explanations for these medicines at the end of the summary. I’m sure there’s a thousand other things that could be helpful.

**Please note, I used only meds/herbs that I know to be safe with canines. Not all OTC meds and herbs that are safe for humans are safe for dogs, so I specifically gathered items that I know have a place in canine care.

EVENING OF THE BITE: Zygo was bit around 5pm and we immediately removed her collar. While we carried her half a mile home, the left side of her snout swelled up. When we got back, I gave her 25mg Benadryl and 3mL Echinacea. The swelling hindered her ability to eat and receive medicine in food, so I administered this via a syringe into the right side of her mouth (she didn’t enjoy it, even with the bubble gum flavor!). I also dropped some Echinacea tincture onto the bite marks, though she did not want me anywhere near her snout. She was clearly in a lot of pain and was breathing rapidly. Her discomfort and breathing seemed to increase when I stared at her with concern, so I tried to act like nothing was wrong, sneaking looks every 5 minutes or so. Poor creature just wanted to be left alone in her anguish. 

The two puncture wounds began oozing dark blood after 2 hour or so. At this time, I gave her 1mL of Echinacea and 1mL of Skullcap. After another two hours, she was willing to lick up raw egg, so I added another 1mL Echinacea, and 500mg Vitamin C (crushed pill). Just before midnight, I gave her another 25mg of Benadryl, 1mL Echinacea, and 1mL Skullcap in another raw egg. The swelling was expanding down her neck. Because her face was swollen, she was not able to rest her head and sleep. Rather she just sat there drowsily bobbing her head, looking exhausted and miserable. Around 2am, I was able to gently coax her head down on the non-swollen side. As soon as her head touched the ground, she was out until 8am. I slept next to her and dreamt of Copperheads.

First evening summary of meds dispensed over 6 hours:

  • 50mg Benadryl
  • 6mL Echinacea
  • 2mL Skullcap
  • 500mg Vitamin C
  • 2 raw eggs

DAY 1: The next morning, the swelling had significantly shifted from her snout to her neck. The snout looked practically normal, but her neck was huge. When we woke up, she was willing to walk with me to a creek about 100ft from our cabin. After she got a solid drink, I started walking back. She just sat there and looked at me. I said, “No worries, I got you!” and carried her back. She rested all morning, rotating between her various dens. I fed her 1 raw egg with fermented oats, and added 25mg Benadryl, 1 mL Echinacea, 1mL Skullcap, 500mg Vitamin C, and sprinkled Turmeric powder on top. By the afternoon, she really perked up and even barked when our neighbors came to visit. I gave her another 1mL of Echinacea in a raw egg. We went for a stroll in the evening, and she happily trailed along with her big saggy neck. Her dinner consisted of salmon with one last dose of 25mg Benadryl, 1mL Echinacea, and 1mL Cleavers. Though her swelling stayed fairly consistent throughout the day, her disposition seemed to be improving very much. The bite marks no longer oozed blood, but they were very sensitive and she did not want me cleaning the dried blood or applying anything. She slept very well that night.

Summary of meds dispensed on the first full day:

  • 50mg Benadryl
  • 3mL Echinacea
  • 1mL Skullcap
  • 1mL Cleavers
  • 500mg Vitamin C
  • 1 tsp Turmeric powder
  • 2 raw eggs

DAY 2: The next morning I found a dog with a much smaller neck! I was very surprised to see the swelling had gone down about 75%. She was able to fully yawn again, and she had much more energy; back to patrolling the neighborhood, herding the chickens, and enthusiastically washing my ears. I fed her more oats and raw egg for breakfast, topped with 1mL Echinacea, 500mg Vitamin C, and Turmeric powder. She received the same for dinner. In the evening, she allowed me to gently clean the bite wounds, which were crusty with blood. Afterwards, I applied some wound powder (made of powdered Yarrow, Usnea, and Goldenseal).

Summary of meds dispensed on the second full day:

  • 2mL Echinacea
  • 500mg Vitamin C
  • 1 tsp Turmeric powder
  • 2 raw eggs
  • wound powder topically

DAY 3: If you met Zygo on this day, you would never know she was recovering from a Copperhead bite. She was about 90% back to normal. I only continued with a dose of 500mg Vitamin C, and didn’t feel the need to administer any herbs. At some point in the day, she re-injured the bite marks from pushing a rock with her nose (a common pastime for Zygo). I dropped some Echinacea tincture onto the wound, and applied some more wound powder.

For the next three days, I gave her a daily dose of 500mg Vitamin C. 

By day 4, she had completely returned to her usual state of being. 

The only obvious lingering effect was the bite marks, which can still be seen if you look closely (a few weeks later). Since the bite, we have noticed an occasional slight movement (tremor?) in her lower jaw, and she has become more affectionate than before (lots of hugging and kissing!). Let’s hope she has learned some appropriate snake boundaries!

It is impossible to know for certain why Zygo’s recovery was so quick and easy-going. I have heard other cases where dogs are down-for-the-count for many days or weeks. There are many factors that could play a part:

  1. Maybe the snake did not inject much venom. Since I did not see the snake, I don’t know how big it was, how long it was attached to Zygo’s snout, etc. I assume it was fairly quick because we were walking along and didn’t even notice anything amiss with Zygo. It would seem very risky for a snake to hang on to a dog’s snout since the dog could then easily retaliate and bite back, so it was likely a quick strike. But her swelling was certainly immediate and significant. 
  2. Maybe Zygo’s young age (15 months) attributed to a strong immune response.
  3. Maybe the herbs & meds helped her body move through the envenomation quickly.
  4. Maybe it was a combination of these factors.

Why did I choose these medicines?

(Again, I used only meds/herbs that I know to be safe with canines. Not all OTC meds and herbs that are safe for humans are safe for dogs, so I specifically gathered items that I know have a place in canine care.)

BENADRYL (Diphenhydramine). I’ve read/heard about many people using Benadryl for doggie snakebites, though I don’t have a full understanding of why to give an anti-histamine. It can certainly be helpful when an overwhelming immune response causes more problems with excessive swelling and inflammation. Though, if we act from an understanding that the body is intelligent/capable in it’s response, I don’t know why we would counter it. BUT since it seems to be a go-to, I used it. It’s also a sedative, and sleep is probably the best medicine of all. I found it helpful to have the liquid form on hand in this case because Zygo was not able to eat with the initial swelling, and it would have been difficult to get a crushed pill down.

ECHINACEA (Echinacea angustifolia/purpurea) is a traditional snakebite herb, with ample ethnobotanical records showing this use in many North American indigenous groups (including the Dakota, Montana, Omaha, Pawnee, Ponca, Winnebago, and Sioux(2)). Echinacea is immune-stimulating and regulates a healthy inflammation response. It is indicated for acute situations. This is typically used in a high dose for a short period of time (>2 weeks). For example, I gave little Zygo 6mL in the first 6 hours; that is equivalent to giving myself about 20 mL. She immediately seemed to improve, so I slowed down my dosage over the next few days.  (Sometime after the bite, I found her contemplating next to the purple cone flowers and snapped this picture. I wonder if she was extending her gratitude.)

I used SKULLCAP (Scutellaria lateriflora) as an herb for pain relief and to calm anxiety. It must have been stressful for Zygo to experience new and uncomfortable sensations, so Skullcap seemed appropriate. 

CLEAVERS (Galium aparine). By the end of the first full day after the bite, her neck seemed to be a full pouch of inflammation soup. I administered Cleavers to support the movement of her lymph. After just one dose, the swelling went down 75% by the next morning. I can’t say for sure it was the Cleavers, but I definitely want to note the correlation.

VITAMIN C is a pretty safe immune support supplement for dogs. It increases white blood cell count and has shown to shorten wound healing time. It is also cheap and easily accessible. I crushed pills and added them to the eggs or other food. (I’ve also used Vitamin C to treat Zygo’s UTIs).

RAW EGGS for doggie snakebites are a folk tradition in the area where I live. My bear hunter neighbors swear the raw eggs “remove the toxins from the body”. I have heard a couple miracle stories centered around raw eggs fed to pets with serious wounds. Perhaps it’s the anti-inflammatory selenium, or the lutein and zeaxanthin, or maybe because it’s a great source of protein. It’s probably worth noting that most folks around here keep chickens, so the eggs they give their dogs are fresh from the coop.

Hope this information can be helpful to you and your furry friends.

And let’s be honest, this post is really just an excuse to share pictures of this sweet pup.

Resources:

(1) Carnivore Minds, by G.A. Bradshaw

(2) Native American Ethnobotany, by Daniel Moerman

Home Birth with Becky

During my last year in Orlando, I had the joy of working as a birth assistant for Becky Erichsen, the midwife behind Sweet Baby Midwifery. The role of a birth assistant is to support the midwife (as opposed to a doula, who supports the person giving birth). This job fell into my lap, and was not something I had ever considered until a friend presented it as an option. It’s nice when that happens! It gave me a break from the ambulance, and allowed me to put some of my herb training to use in a new way. I had been used to responding to emergency situations that often felt stressful and didn’t end well, so after a few births where I could feel the contagious euphoric feelings of the parents when they held their new little human, I realized that I needed these happy endings. I learned a lot through this job, and would like to share a bit about labor, home birth, and the role of herbal medicine…

I have a strong belief that our physical bodies contain an instinctual tendency towards balance, on an unconscious level. Witnessing birth amplified this belief infinitely. There seems to always be a point in the birth process when the laboring person is no longer in control, but is just along for the ride; a wild surrendering to the intelligence of their own body working with the baby.

In the writings of midwife Ina May Gaskin, she emphasizes that the cervix is a sphincter, and like all sphincters, the body needs to relax for it to open. She suggests that many hospital births are stalled simply because it is difficult to relax in a medical atmosphere. For decades now, birth has been treated as a medical procedure, and a race against the clock, and is often infused with fear. We’ve probably all heard horror stories of labor interventions spiraling down to an unwanted cesarean section. Or we’ve read the NPR articles about the rise in pregnancy disasters in the US. Could it all boil down to a sphincter not opening due to stress? I think that probably plays a large part. There are also lots of theories about hormonal disruption from modern chemicals, or past birth control use affecting cervix dilation, etc. Of the many home births I witnessed, things mostly went really really well. I rarely tapped into my “emergency response” mode, and in the few times when I did, things turned out more-than-fine.

Becky, whom I often refer to as “the baby whisperer”, was a wonder to watch work. Her midwifery style is a supportive hands-off approach. She allows the process to move at its own pace, trusting the baby. Occasionally I felt skeptical glances from family members who wanted us to “do something” to move things along. This is understandable, as it is hard to watch a loved one labor; contractions become more intense and a downward pressure builds as the baby moves into position. I have heard it described as “beyond painful”. But this is necessary, and Becky, a mama of two, shared with me that her own labor mantra was, “Pressure is good! Pressure is good!” Though Becky is very hands-off, she would also be the first to recommend a trip to the hospital if it seemed necessary.

There were a few trips to the hospital over the year, and one I remember very well. Everything was going as expected: mom was fully dilated, baby was sitting low, and there was an urge to push. But with each push, the baby’s heart-rate decelerated more than is preferred. With no way to know exactly why this was happening, Becky simply said, “I don’t think the baby wants to come out here.” So we transferred mama to the hospital where they immediately performed a C-section, and it was discovered that there was an infection in the uterus. Becky said, “Well, I guess that’s why baby wanted to come to the hospital!”  If the baby had been delivered at home, it would have been more risky. There was no way to know about the infection since the mom’s vitals were stable, but the baby let us know with his heart-rate deceleration. Through her years of practice, Becky has become very present to the nuances of the process. I’ve learned so much from simply watching her evaluate each situation.

Becky was happy to let me play with herbs and put to use some of my training which still remained theoretical for me. There are many herbs with traditional labor uses, so I put together a kit of herbs whose medicinal use I was already very familiar with. At the beginning of the year, I suspected that herbs could probably be useful at every birth. But within a few births, I realized that some of my intention was to “move things along”, no different from the Pitocin drip at the hospital. It is the temptation of the herbalist to mediate every experience with plant medicine, but this can quickly become overkill and denies the body of its own self-balancing mechanisms. With this in mind, I became more patient and observant. The laboring body is, for the most part, completely competent and able. Somewhere along the way, I began to notice a “sweet spot” for labor herbs. Usually labor moves along just fine physically, but mentally, the person may come across some blocks, fears, or hesitations (Understandably, your body is pushing a cantaloupe through your vagina, and sometimes there’s a mother-in-law constantly asking, “Are you really sure you want to give birth at home?!”). In my experience, this emotional tension is where herbs really shine. There was a moment I began to notice: when contractions were increasing in intensity, but pushing had not yet begun, and fatigue was setting in. Usually the person says, “I can’t do this!” At that time, a dose of herbs could be very helpful.

The herbs I’ve used at this time are usually Motherwort, Black Cohosh, and/or Passionflower. Please note that this blog-post is not an instructional post for using herbs in birth. I will not be discussing doses, indications, or contraindications here. These herbs should be well-studied before using them (beyond this random blog), so I trust you to do so.

Herbs also have a place immediately postpartum. I have found Yarrow to be very helpful for postpartum bleeding, miraculously so in some cases. Occasionally Black Haw and Jamaican Dogwood helped for after birth pains. For some people it works really well, and for others it doesn’t touch the pain. I believe I noticed it working better for 1st and 2nd births, as the after pains increase with each birth. Here’s a picture of the kit I used:

In my time as a birth assistant, I used herbs about 50% of the time.

Beyond using herbs acutely during labor, it is worth mentioning how helpful they can be during pregnancy and for the months following birth. Especially for stress support. But please note that pregnancy is a fragile time, and herbs should not be used recklessly. I consider most herbs (especially the labor herbs listed above) contraindicated during pregnancy. Basically, I only feel comfortable using herbs that are specifically INDICATED for pregnancy.

It is strange to me that home birth is so often paired with feelings of fear. After all the time I have spent in hospitals, I can say with certainty that it is nearly the last place I would ever want to give birth (unless it is a high risk pregnancy). Stress is stagnant in the hospital air, along with MRSA. Our society’s viewing of birth as a medical procedure has disempowered us and nearly severed the ability to trust our bodies through a process as old as the beginning of time. And yet, miraculously, our instincts are there whether we trust them or not. That’s the beauty of instincts; they do not have to be developed, they are just there. (Our listening skills, however, may need some cultivating.)

After many months of working as a birth assistant, I picked up an ambulance shift, and responded to a house for a woman who had given birth. When we arrived on scene, mom and baby were on the bathroom floor, gazing into each other’s eyes. Both were perfect. The placenta had yet to be delivered. The fire department was rushing to get her onto our stretcher, take vital signs, and move them into the ambulance. “Should we wait for the placenta?” I asked. “That’s not protocol,” was the response. They requested me to drive lights and sirens. I turned on the lights, but refused to expose such a tiny person to those horrible wails in the first hour of life. It was the middle of the night anyways and no one was on the road. Along the 8 minute transport to the hospital, it was raining and I noticed sprinklers needlessly watering people’s yards. I couldn’t help but marvel at the ridiculousness of the situation, and our culture in general. When we arrived at the hospital, the obviously healthy baby was taken from the mom for a significant period of time. She expected this and didn’t seem to mind. I noticed the baby’s lips were trying to suckle, and I worried that breast feeding would be more difficult the longer they were separated. Then we had to leave to respond to another call.

The next week I went with Becky to a home birth. The laboring mom’s desire was to have us there for support, but she wanted to catch her own baby. The birth pool was set up outside, under the stars. Within a few hours, her baby was delivered in the caul (meaning the birth sack was unbroken, a rare and magical occurrence). She caught her baby, with her partner holding her, and the babe had a healthy latch on the nipple within 10 minutes. Soon grandparents came over and marveled at the little creature, cooked mom some food, and tucked her and baby in for a sweet sleep. An experience like this makes me feel like humans are powerful, ancient creatures of the earth.

Case Study of a Hand Laceration

My friend Kristen Prosen got a pretty gnarly cut at the base of her thumb while carving a wooden spoon. I was able to check in with her throughout the healing journey, and it has been a pretty successful case of using herbs in wound care. When she came to us at the FL Earthskills first aid station immediately after the knife hit her hand, the cut was quite deep and bleeding. First aiders used a yarrow compress to stop the bleeding, then sent her off to the hospital to get stitches. She used honey on the stitches and removed them after 10 days. She continued to use honey, charcoal, plantain, and helichrysum essential oil. When I saw her a few weeks later at the FL Herbal Conference first aid station, it was doing pretty well, with only slight redness. We began some calendula-infused epsom salt soaks, after which she would scrape off dead tissue. Then air became the wound’s good friend, because it was in a crevice prone to becoming damp and infected. From there, Kristen continued to care for it well with all the above mentioned tools, as she saw fit.  Once there was a healthy layer of new tissue, she began applying salves and frequently massaged the area to break up scar tissue. She now has full mobility and it’s lookin’ great! Here’s some pictures of the wounds progression….

Day 1 (stitches)…………..Day 10 (post-stitches)…………………Day 15

Day 18……………………Day 24……………………..Day 29!

Sage Ocean, A First Aid Remedy

Last year I was running through the woods when I tripped and broke my fall with my mouth.  I will spare you the bloody details, just know that I ended up losing two teeth.  In the months following, while toothless and searching for a dentist, I was doing a lot of warm salt water rinses.  I would add 1/4 tsp of salt to 1 cup of warm water, swish for 1-3 minutes, and spit.  This ratio of salt:water is ideal for the cells of the human body as it matches the internal balance.  Sea salt is beneficial for traumatized mouths because it is both cleansing and healing.  It’s anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties help keep wounds from becoming infected.  At the same time it tones loose or damaged tissue with it’s vulnerary actions.  I would swish with warm salt water three times per day, after meals.  Along with this regiment, I would sip Sage tea throughout the day, as it is also cleansing and toning.  Sage (Salvia officinalis) is anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and astringent, so it is especially helpful for fragile gums that are fighting infection.

As I was mixing my salt water rinse one day, I remembered that if I mixed a lot of salt into a jar of water until the salt no longer dissolved, the saline solution could sit on my countertop without going bad, indefinitely preserved by the high percentage of salt.  With this preparation tactic, I could prepare many salt water rinses all at once, in a concentrate.

For a week, I gladly sipped and swished from my “Ocean Jar”, as I called it.  I would dilute the “ocean mixture” in water, 1-2 tsp in 1/2 cup of water. I came up with this measurement by tasting different measurements to find a range that seemed to match the saline content of a typical saline solution.  In a moment of curiosity, I wondered if I could make this saline solution with not just water, but a strong herbal infusion of Sage leaves.  I did just that and called it “Sage Ocean”.  For many months this jar sat on my counter and never went bad!

During this experimentation time, I came across a few other scenarios where Sage Ocean came into use.  I used it to irrigate a dirty wound, and I also used it as a sore throat gargle.  Saltwater gargles are one of the best remedies for painful sore throats, and Sage does a noble job fighting the infection.  In every application, I diluted the preparation in water in the previously mentioned ratio.  Sage Ocean became a very handy thing to have sitting on my countertop, patiently awaiting it’s next moment to shine in illness and wound care.

herbalocean

Before Sage Ocean, I had not heard of preserving herbal infusions with salt, and it is intriguing to know that it is very do-able!  I wonder if there are other situations in which this preservation method could be of use…

Sage Ocean Recipe

Ingredients:

1 cup water

1 cup fresh Sage leaves (Salvia officinalis), or 1/2 cup dried leaves

1/3 cup salt

Directions:

1.  Bring the water to a boil and pour over Sage leaves. Cover and steep for at least 30 minutes.

2.  Strain out Sage leaves.

3.  Add salt to the water, and allow it to sit until the salt dissolves.  If all the salt dissolves, add more until the water no longer takes in the salt.  The salt will preserve the preparation indefinitely, as far as I can tell.

When I use Sage Ocean, I dilute 1 tsp Sage Ocean in 4 oz of warm water.

Indications:

Infected gums

Mouth trauma

Wound irrigation

Sore throat gargle

As time went by, Sage Ocean was a significant aid to my mouth.  After I had a bridge put in, I continued to use it.  I found that, with the bridge, it was hard for my gums to fully heal, and they would often bleed while I cleaned my teeth.  Because of this, I substituted Sage for Yarrow leaves (Achillea millefolia), and I made a jar of “Yarrow Ocean”.  Yarrow is astringent, anti-microbial, vulnerary, and hemostatic (meaning that it stops bleeding).  Though Yarrow Ocean tasted awful, in my opinion, it worked wonders on my bleeding gums.

My most recent “Herbal Ocean” is a Florida special, made with Sweetgum leaves (Liquidamber styraciflua), Juniper berries (Juniperus virginiana), and Bayberry leaves (Myrica cerifera).  I use it for those times when my gums become tender, painful, and susceptible to easy bleeding.

Florida Special
My “Florida Special”: composed of Sea Salt, Juniper Berries, Bayberry and Sweetgum leaves

Raise your Herbal Ocean jars in a toast to the healing wonders of sea salt and herbs!

-Annie