Here's What To Do if Your Dog Gets Bitten by a Snake
Dogs are curious animals, but snakes are not typically friends that your pooch should wander up to. But if they do, knowing how to act quickly can be a lifesaver (literally).
Depending on where you and your dog live, encountering snakes can be anything from an occasional anxiety dream to a very real reality in your own backyard, especially in certain areas of the U.S.
Florida and Texas are the two U.S. states with the highest rates of snakebites. 20 percent of snake attacks nationwide occur in these two states.
There are more than 3,000 types of snakes in the world, more than 10 times the number of dog breeds. Yeah, that's quite a difference! But not all snakes are venomous—only about 600 species. And thankfully only four types of venomous snakes live in the U.S., including rattlesnakes, coral snakes, copperheads, and water moccasins.
Still, it's always good to be prepared in case a snake does get spooked and strike against your fur baby.
Dog Snakebite Symptoms
If your dog has been bitten by a snake, they may start exhibiting certain symptoms to let you know they're not feeling well. Look for these possible signs.
- Snakebite marks (often on the dog’s in the face, neck, or legs)
- Swelling and bruising around the bite
- Sudden weakness and collapse
- Newfound aggression from the dog due to discomfort from the bite
- Bleeding from the bite
- Unsteadiness in the hind legs
- Bloody urine
- Excessive salivation or drooling from the mouth
- Dilated pupils
What to Do When Your Dog Has Been Bitten by a Snake
First things first, call your veterinarian immediately to let them know what happened and that you're on your way. Most pets survive snakebites if tended to right away, depending on the location of the bite(s) and the dog's individual susceptibility to the venom.
The office may ask you to identify the snake either over the phone or upon arrival, which is incredibly helpful to the veterinarian, but do not take it into your own hands to try and catch said snake. If you're worried about the snake on personal property, you can call Animal Control to check out the situation after your pet receives the care they need.
After calling the vet, if you suspect the bite was venomous, start applying first aid. It's important to know that applying first aid is not a substitute for a trip to a vet, but an addition.
- Rinse the wound with water to minimize the effects of the venom.
- Keep the wound below the heart in order to discourage venom from spreading to other parts of the body.
- In case your dog has stopped breathing, apply CPR if you know how. If not, you can ask for guidance when on the phone with the vet.
Dog Snakebite Treatment
If your dog is bitten by a non-venomous snake or by a venomous snake that didn't inject any venom (a.k.a. a dry bite), veterinarians will treat it as a puncture wound, which entails a combination of wound-cleaning as well as antibiotics, antihistamines like Benadryl and/or anti-inflammatory medication.
Venomous bites should be (and will be, as soon as you arrive at the vet's office) treated as a medical emergency. Treatment for a venomous bite depends on the type of snake that did the biting. So does the prognosis of your pup.
Rattlesnake and coral snakebites are the most life-threatening to your dog and require administration of antivenom as well as treatment to prevent shock. Copperhead bites are typically treated with a combination of antihistamines, antibiotics, and fluid therapy, which works to reduce the risk of hypotension and/or shock.
"Shock is a life-threatening state in which a patient's circulatory system starts to collapse," says Natalie Marks, DVM of VCA Blum Animal Hospital. "We might see pale gums, we might see cold extremities—the feet, the tail, and the head start to get chilly."
Shock can also cause respiratory distress, Marks says, which can include not only difficulty breathing but also rapid, labored breaths. All of these are tell-tale signs that the bite was, again, mostly likely of the venomous variety.
When a pet goes into shock, a veterinarian will start to treat for countershock, which entails trying to raise the blood pressure through fluid therapy, trying to warm the dog up to encourage blood flow to shunted parts of the body.
"And of course, the most important thing is the antivenom," Marks says.
After antivenom is injected, then a veterinarian will start to focus on other parts of the patient's body that may need extra attention from the envenomization, like the liver or kidneys.
Dog Snakebite Recovery and Aftercare
The recovery period after a non-venomous snakebite is pretty standard, according to Marks, lasting about 3–5 days. During this timeframe, it's important for pet parents to keep a close eye on the puncture wound, making sure that the tissue around the area is healing in a healthy way that discourages infection.
Unfortunately, it's possible that your pet may have lasting effects from their venomous snake encounter, but a veterinarian will be able to tell you what to expect.
"If the patient has had envenomization, then we have to see the after effects of the organs," Marks explains. "If those patients have had liver trauma, what we call hypoxic, then we monitor through bloodwork and liver supportive supplements and diet to help that liver regenerate."
Other organs, like the kidneys, may have irreversible damage simply due to the fact that they can't regenerate like the liver can, so veterinarians and pet parents alike will want to keep an eye out for early signs of kidney disease.
Your veterinarian may also send you home with some antacids for your pup, in case their gastrointestinal system was shunted because of the shock response, depending on bowel movements and intestinal activity.
All in all, keep a close watch on your pet after you're sent home to make sure any resounding effects are noted and communicated with your veterinarian.
Preventing Future Snakebites
Random backyard encounters with snakes happen. After all, wildlife slithers wherever it wants. If you're worried about having a snake problem in your backyard, there are some solutions you can explore.
- Keep your lawn mowed down to the minimum height. This gives snakes less room to hide and they don’t like being exposed for long periods of time.
- Same goes for random items lying around your yard. Keep items as far off the ground as possible to discourage snakes from crawling into a spare garden hose or wood pile.
- Snakes dislike hard, rough surfaces. Rocks and/or mulch can discourage snakes from occupying your property.
As far as walking or hiking into snake territory goes, you can keep you and your dog out harm's way by staying on the trail and keeping your pup on a leash. Dogs are more likely to get bitten if they stumble into longer grasses and shaded areas off a paved path. And rattlesnakes are nocturnal, meaning that daytime walks are the best option for you and your furry friend.
Stay safe out there!