Before I go into detail, please know that Burrito is doing great and is expected to make a full recovery.
Unfortunately, he was bitten by a rattlesnake again yesterday. I know, it’s hard to believe. It was only eleven months ago that he was bitten for the first time.
Shortly before 8am, I heard alarm calls coming from his group. When I arrived at the playroom, everything seemed fairly normal. Burrito and Foxie were grooming on the catwalk by the windows overlooking the valley. Annie was laying in a nest. Jamie was looking out the window, attempting to peek at her neighbors. But Jody and Negra both approached me with hair standing on end to ask for reassurance. And as I watched Missy peering into the trench drain, she emitted a quiet huu call, which, as Goodall and colleagues described, signifies “puzzlement, surprise, or slight anxiety…directed toward such things as small snakes, unknown creature rustlings, dead animals, and the like.” I ran the drain flush and waited. Within seconds, a dead rattlesnake washed into the catch basin.
Amazingly, everyone initially seemed to be OK. But when Burrito got up, I could see him dragging his butt across the floor instead of knuckle-walking while holding his arm awkwardly to his chest. He had been bitten on the hand and it was beginning to swell and become painful.
Just like last time, a few quick calls and texts sent our staff scrambling into action. And thanks to our incredible donors – especially our friend Monica – we had four vials of antivenin in a laboratory refrigerator at the ready here in our clinic.
Before long, Burrito was anesthetized and brought into the clinic for the infusion. He remained stable throughout the procedure. It was clear that he either received less envenomation this time or had developed some very mild immunity from the last bite. But many of the same worrying signs were present, including a neurotoxic reaction known as myokymia, which is characterized by small muscle fasciculations and can look like worms crawling under the skin. It was terrifying to watch the first time, and only slightly less so the second time around.
While the infusion took place, Dr. Erin led the team through a general exam and Burrito was given everything from blood draws and x-rays to a manicures and moisturizers.
When the drip was complete, he was returned to the medical recovery room to rest.
We checked on him throughout the evening and by morning he was up and enjoying some attention from his family through the mesh. Like last time, he’ll be kept in isolation or on quiet play dates until the potential for complications subsides.
Luckily he has a lot of human friends looking in on him, too.
I don’t know if there are simply more rattlesnakes than ever before or if our dumb luck just ran out. Our 1/4-mile-long rattlesnake exclusion fence was never impenetrable, as the numerous doors, gates, and utility line penetrations proved difficult to block off completely, but for the first ten years we didn’t have a single rattlesnake within the fence. Now, with bites two years in a row, we are going to have to find ways to more effectively seal those areas. It would be nice to think that Burrito has learned a lesson from his encounters, but Burrito has never been much for learning lessons.
As I write this post, he is finishing dinner after his first full day of recovery and starting to bed down for the night. He’s already got his appetite back so we are optimistic that he’ll be good to go in no time.
This is not the kind of thing our veterinary team wants to get good at through real-world practice, but we certainly felt better prepared for this incident and it is in large part due to the generosity and love you all showed Burrito and the vet team in the aftermath of his last bite. So we attribute his rapid recovery not only to our amazing staff and Burrito’s own indomitable spirit, but also to your support. Thank you.
We’re going to do all we can to keep those rattlesnakes out. And Burrito, please just let them be!