Dog Meets Copperhead at Ragged

By Dan Horwitch

I had just set up a toprope to climb Nederland and YMC at the Main Cliff and was hiking down the south gully.  Mia, my new dog, was first down the trail, followed by Gary and then me. Just before turning right onto the “staircase,” Gary says, I think Mia just got bit by a copperhead.” Mia continued down the trail and, sure enough, there was an adult copperhead snake on the left side of trail. Gary and I walked around the snake and continued to the bottom. We got to the base where we had left our gear and it was only a matter of minutes before Mia’s face started swelling up. She was sitting passively, trembling slightly and drooling a little. I also noticed two puncture wounds on the side of her mouth.  I gave her the 50mg of Benadryl I had in my pack and called the emergency animal hospital. The receptionist recommended I bring her right in and took some information so the staff would be prepared when we arrived. Interestingly, she also asked if I had the snake! I told her “no” but assured her I knew what kind it was.

Mia’s swollen face shortly after an encounter with a Copperhead at Ragged Mountain Main Cliff on Sunday, May 26, 2019. Photo: Dan Horwitch

Mia and I slowly hiked out and got to the vet ER in about a hour from the time of the bite – holiday weekend traffic did not help. Mia was taken into an examination room where the vet gave her another 50mg of Benadryl, pain medication, and medication for stomach distress. She also drew blood to test whether her clotting ability was impaired. Forty-five minutes later the test result showed her clotting ability was fine. The vet speculated that the snake did not inject all of its venom, which would be the case in the event of a reaction bite, rather than one where the snake is actively defending itself from an attack and injects more venom. I suspect that Mia might not even have seen the snake, let alone attacked it, and might have accidently stepped on it or stepped too close. Also, we agreed that Mia benefitted from the snake being an adult, which is more likely to hold back some of its venom, as opposed to an infant that generally will inject everything it has.

The vet suggested that there might be a delayed reaction and recommended that I leave Mia overnight for observation.  I declined the suggestion and took her home with a ten day supply of antibiotics, a ten day supply of pain killers, and a recommendation to give her 50mg of Benadryl three times a day for ten days, as well as to see my vet as soon as possible.

I brought her home where she immediately polished off a large bowl of food - I took that to be a good sign. By Tuesday, less than 48 hours after the bite, most of the swelling had disappeared. I brought her in to her regular vet who determined that she no longer needed the Benadryl or the painkillers but advised finishing up the antibiotic. His recommendation for the future – continue to carry Benadryl when I go out hiking and climbing. I haven’t brought Mia back to Ragged yet, but we’ve done a number of long hikes and she seems to have fully recovered.


Dan Horwitch currently serves on the RMF Board of Directors.

Nate McKenzieComment