When Belle, an eight year-old Labrador retriever, was bitten by a rattlesnake, she suffered a life-threatening reaction that needed immediate emergency care. Thanks to the expert care of the team at VCA Becker Animal Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, and the selfless decision of two associates to offer their own pet as a blood donor, Belle’s life was saved.

Belle was brought to VCA Becker with multiple rattlesnake bites on her muzzle. She was quickly given a dose of antivenin.

“The faster you can give antivenin, the less effect on the cells and cascading effects in the body, since it binds to try to prevent worsening damage,” says Nicole Zuniga, DVM, one of the doctors who treated Belle.

Unfortunately for Belle, she continued to swell and was still in a lot of pain the following day. Rattlesnake venom damages platelets, red blood cells, and clotting proteins. In Belle, this caused severe vasculitis, which Dr. Zuniga describes as leaky cells, which cause more swelling and low protein in the body. She was also experiencing internal bleeding along with oozing from the wounds because her platelets (the clotting part of the blood) were low. Belle needed a blood transfusion.

Belle’s family elected not to transfer her to a specialty hospital due to cost, and finding packed red blood cells to give Belle a transfusion at VCA Becker proved difficult. 

“Due to the COVID crisis, the number of companies producing animal blood products has been more limited, so an animal blood supply has been more costly to keep on hand,” explains Dr. Zuniga. 

Since VCA Becker did not have blood on hand for Belle, they tried calling other hospitals for loans, but were unsuccessful in their attempts. According to Dr. Zuniga, when packed red blood cells aren’t available, the next best thing is whole blood from another donor dog. Ray Garcia, a veterinary technician at the hospital, overheard staff members talking about the situation and decided to help.  

“My girlfriend Jen and I both work at VCA Becker so we keep our dogs in the resort when we are both are on shift,” says Ray. “I knew our dogs where healthy, fully vaccinated and could help this pet, so I asked Jen if she was okay that we use Mia our bully as a donor."

Since many dogs need to be sedated when donating blood, Jen, client service representative lead at VCA Becker, was initially nervous about offering Mia as a donor. She asked Dr. Zuniga to walk her through the process, then asked to see Belle.

“Standing there looking at Belle, she was so swollen from the snake venom and obviously very exhausted,” remembers Jen. “Ray then said, ‘We are going to save this dog Jen. Mia is going to save her.’ I didn't need to hear anything else. I knew she needed this transfusion and said yes to Mia being her donor.”

Mia ended up making two separate blood donations to help Belle. 

“Belle would not have survived without Mia’s donations,” says Dr. Zuniga. “We don’t typically have to do blood transfusions for snake bites, but her body had such a severe reaction and breakdown that it became essential.”

Even more incredible than this act of kindness by Ray and Jen is the fact that it was not the first time staff at VCA Becker have offered their own pets as donors to help save a client’s pet.

“We are very fortunate to have such a loving and caring staff that many of our employees are willing to have their own pets used as donor dogs and cats when we are in need,” explains Dr. Zuniga.

Thanks to the blood transfusions, the care she received from the VCA Becker team and the diligent follow up care she has received at home, Belle has recovered from the bites and is back to being her playful self. She and her owner, Gracie Edlund, even had the opportunity to meet Mia, the donor dog who saved her life.

“I took her over to meet my girl Mia and she hugged her so tight, saying thank you, thank you, thank you Mia for saving my baby,” recalls Jen. “It really was an emotional experience and I am so happy that Belle is recovering, just an amazing story."

Congratulations to the team at VCA Becker for providing such outstanding care to Belle, and special thanks to Ray Garcia, Jen Sells and Mia for the selfless, lifesaving gift that make made Belle’s recovery possible.

If you suspect your dog or cat has been bitten by a snake, get them to the closest VCA Animal Hospital as soon as possible. The sooner treatment is administered, the better the outcome will be. Even non-venomous snake bites can lead to serious infections and antibiotic treatment may be needed. A veterinarian can determine what additional treatment is needed.

When the unexpected happens, every minute matters.  VCA Animal Hospitals are here for you.  Visit our website to locate the closest 24/7 emergency veterinary center near you. 
“Thanks to the expert care of the team at VCA Becker Animal Hospital in San Antonio, Texas, and the selfless decision of two associates to offer their own pet as a blood donor, Belle’s life was saved.”