Rattlesnake season….indoors?!?!

We all know that these hot summer days can bring the rattlesnakes out of their dens to get a little sun.  Apparently they aren’t worried about melanoma, but that’s another day’s topic…….  Okay, Smokey and Sassy (names have been changed to protect their identities) are not your typical rattlesnake bite victims.  These two toy breed dogs live in a small, country town outside of Billings.  They are mostly outside just to “do their business”, then they are likely to be found on their owners’ laps!  So when they presented this week with facial swelling, pain and lethargy, we thought it must be an allergic reaction to a bee sting or a spider bite, as these are quite common this time of year.  We were quite surprised when the owner found a small rattlesnake under the cupboard in the house where they keep the dog food.  Somehow this little guy got inside the house and struck the dogs when they were sniffing around for their food.

Venomous snake bites tend to occur when the snake feels threatened, as they might when a dog comes sniffing their way.  In our area, the most prevalent venomous snake is the rattlesnake (Crotalus).  Rattlesnakes are Pit Vipers, who have heat-sensing pits located between the eye and the nostil, hinged fangs and triangular-shaped heads.  Water moccasins, cottonmouths and copperheads are also pit vipers.

The venom of a pit viper is produced by a modified parotid gland (like a salivary gland in humans) and is transported to the fangs by contraction of the muscles in the head/jaw.  The fangs contain a duct that opens near the tip.  American pit vipers can choose how much venom and when venom is actually released during a bite.  Some bites are actually called “dry bites” as no venom is released.  This is the reason for the variation in how serious a bite is and how much tissue damage is done.  As veterinarians, we often don’t know until the symptoms progress, how serious the bite might have been.  In the case of  Smokey and Sassy, they both exhibited severe swelling of the face and neck region, but Smokey’s symptoms became worse over time, indicating that he likely received more venom than his sister.  Sassy’s bite may have even been a dry bite; even though no venom is injected, there is still considerable pain and swelling associated with the bite.

Pit viper venom contains several toxins intended to immobilize and digest their prey.  The typical symptoms we see with rattlesnake bites indicate that the myotoxin, anticoagulant, and cytotoxic properties are very prevalent.  The symptoms include pain, muscle and tissue damage and swelling, and bleeding tendencies due to the destruction of  blood clotting cells and mechanisms.  Other toxic properties include neurotoxins, designed to paralyze the victim, nephrotoxins which cause serious kidney damage and cardiotoxins, which affect the heart muscle and cause serious hypotension (low blood pressure).  As you can imagine, all of these toxins acting together are very potent and can easily lead to death or severe disability of the victim. 

Smokey actually had more severe blood clotting symptoms and developed bruising on his chest and abdomen as his blood clotting cells decreased.  Along with this, his red blood cell percentage decreased, due to the blood pooling in his subcutaneous tissues (bruising).  Both dogs developed significant edema/swelling in their head and neck, which gradually spread to ventrally (to gravity-dependent areas – chest and legs).  These dogs were treated with intravenous fluids, pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medication and antibiotics.  Anti venom is not frequently given to dogs, due to its enormous cost, and most dogs will survive rattlesnake bites with aggressive medical care given as early after the bite as is possible.  We also treated the edema and swelling with our Therapeutic Laser, which helps remove inflammatory products from the affected tissues.   Read more about Laser therapy here:  http://www.billingsanimalfamilyhospital.com/services/laser.html

At Billings Animal Family Hospital, we offer the Rattlesnake vaccine.  The vaccine is intended to lessen the severity of symptoms should the patient be bitten.  It doesn’t mean that veterinary care isn’t necessary!!  We have actually had two patients “test” the vaccine for us and it did seem that their symptoms were less severe than non-vaccinated dogs.  Of course we don’t know about the severity of the bite either (size of the snake, amount of venom, etc).  The vaccine is initially given and boosted one month later.  Following the initial series, it is given annually.  This is one vaccine that has a fairly high rate of vaccine reactions, up to 20%,  although none have been any more serious than swelling or a small sterile abscess lump at the vaccine site.  For dogs at risk of getting bitten, I think the benefit far outweighs the risk of these mild vaccine reactions.  Dogs at risk might be hunting dogs, dogs that hike along the Rims or Phipps park, country dogs or even the toy breeds who rarely go outside!! 

Smokey and Sassy went home 3 days after they initially presented.  They were both stable, doing well and their family was grateful to have them home!!  They will return for follow-up blood counts and laser treatments until the majority of the swelling and bruising have subsided.  I’m not sure how the rest of the family is doing knowing there was a rattlesnake inside the house!  Yikes!

What’s in a name?

As many of you know, we recently changed our name from Circle of Life Animal Wellness Center to Billings Animal Family Hospital.  I don’t know how many people have asked, “Why?”.  Well, let me try to explain the best way I know how!

“Change is good!”  Or at least that is what more than one self-help guru will try to make you believe.  But why change from something people know and recognize?  Growing up as a child, my name was mutilated more than you can imagine.  Edie Ballensky – my maiden name.  If only I had a dollar for every time I was called “Eddie”!!  Don’t get me wrong….I have nothing against Eddie’s in general, it’s just that they are usually male, and I am clearly NOT!!  I cursed my parents more than once and threatened to change my name when I was legally able.  To Veronica or Samantha or something long and sexy and clearly not male!!  Ballensky….now that was another matter.  I realize last names are often complicated compilations of ancestry, family origins, etc. and often mispronounced, but read it a few times and think of all the possibilities!  But soon I came to love Edie (my proper name is Edith, which I adore, but I probably won’t use it until I’m 80 or so….), and now there are SO many wonderful Edie’s around….actresses, celebrities and even just common folk like myself!  In fact there was a new baby girl born in Billings just last week named Edie!  It still gets mispronounced often, but now I just laugh it off and remind people that there is only one “D” in the name and perhaps they should go back to grammar school and revisit pronunciation!!  About 20 years ago I was fortunate enough to meet a wonderful man with an amazing last name and I conned him into marrying me so I could be “Dr. Best”!!  Actually I wasn’t a doctor yet, but I knew I would be one someday…..  So there you have it, the story of my name.  If any of you call or come in and ask for Dr. Eddie….we will both get a good laugh!

Now, back to the BUSINESS name change, because that’s what’s really important here.  As some of you might know, the practice originated as Heath Veterinary Hospital back before I was born.  Dr. Heath started the practice and back then it was normal to name the practice after yourself, so everyone knew where to find you.  Dr. Jourdan then owned the practice, but the name remained the same, because people KNEW it and why change something that everyone knew?  When Dr. Allbright purchased the practice in the late 1980’s she retained the Heath name for the same reasons.  When I started with the practice in 1997, I thought the practice was named after the Heath candy bar, a chocolate-covered toffee delight!!  I quickly realized that I was wrong, but the front office staff did give out Heath candy bars to new clients to remind them who we were!  At the time of the building remodel in 2001, Dr. Allbright decided it was a good time to change the name, and Circle of Life Animal Wellness Center was chosen.  While I was a small part of the decision, I still can’t remember exactly where it came from or how it came to stick.  Dr. Allbright was venturing more into alternative medicine at the time, so the “Wellness Center” concept seemed to fit.  The Disney movie The Lion King was also popular about then, so perhaps it seemed a natural fit.  The name was met with mixed emotions from our clients, but it stuck and people came to recognize it.  It did get shortened a lot, though, because that’s a six-word mouthful when you’re trying to answer the phone!

After I purchased the practice in 2008, I realized I didn’t really care that much for the Circle of Life name, but people KNEW it and I’m basically a conservative soul, afraid of dramatic change, so I left it.  So what happened this year that prompted me to make the leap and change the name?  I came to the realization that the Circle of Life name didn’t fit “me” or my practice style or what I want the practice to mean to me and my clients over the next 20 years or so until I retire.  (Actually I probably won’t be able to retire then, but that’s another matter…..)  It took me about 6 months of deliberation and consultations to eventually come up with a name that I liked and then another 3 months to implement the change.  I spoke with no fewer than 3 veterinary consultants, my family, friends, staff and the gal down at City Brew!!  NOT an easy decision! Finally someone said to me, “Make it easy, meaningful and search-able on Google”. 

If you look in the Yellow Pages (does anyone ACTUALLY do that anymore?!?!), you will see that most veterinary practices in and around the Billings area are named for a geographical region or street name.  A few are still named after the original founder of the practice and a few reflect the practice mission or philosophy.  I wanted a name that was unique, but simple and truly stated how I feel about being a veterinarian and serving my clients in this community of Billings that I love.  So we start with Billings, because that’s where we are and not many practices actually have “Billings” in the name.  I wanted “family” in the name, but struggled with how to use it.  I had suggestions of “Pet Family” and others, but I liked “Animal Family” better.  There is actually an “Animal Family….something something Center” in Iowa!  I figured we were far enough away, there shouldn’t be a conflict!  Now, how to finish off a name?  Hospital vs clinic vs wellness center?  I was against a super-long name again, so I nixed anything longer than one word.  I also think “hospital” sounds more comprehensive, advanced, official than “clinic”, so I chose hospital.   So there you have it!  Billings Animal Family Hospital. 

I had the logo designed in a contest on 99designs.com.  I highly recommend this site to anyone wanting nice work from several different designers for a very reasonable price.  I had over 200 submissions to my “logo contest”.  I wanted the mountains in my logo, since I see the Beartooths clearly on most of my morning drives in from Huntley.  The wavy lines under the dog and cat I like to think represent the Yellowstone River!  The designer made the cat look super cute and friendly, as we know most cats are!!  I requested the dog resemble one of my favorite breeds, the Australian Cattle dog!!  Yes, I know there are many naughty Heelers out there, but they are incredibly intelligent and loyal and most of them are angels!!!  (Like my Sage and Mardi!!)

Look for more blog posts soon, which I promise to be more “medical” in nature!