How to Treat Your Dog for Snake Bites

The sun and flowers aren’t the only things that come out in spring. The warmer months also signal the start of animals coming out of hibernation. Most of these animals are generally harmless to pets, but others — such as snakes — can negatively impact the wellbeing of your furry friends.

Snakes are cold-blooded animals that can be found in just about any type of climate: deserts, forests, swamps, and grasslands. Since they’re cold-blooded, they don’t have the necessary means to regulate their body temperatures on their own, so they seek out warm places. During winter, they hibernate under rocks, in tunnels or burrows; sometimes even in human homes.

Thus, when snakes come out during warmer months to seek prey, there’s a chance they cross paths with our naturally curious four-legged friends.

If it doesn’t go well, let’s take a look at the important details around how to treat a snake bite on a dog:

Why Do Snakes Bite?

Apart from a scuffle around gathering food, a snake has no reason to bite other creatures.

Since they don’t have limbs or claws, they bite out of defense. When a dog is curious or too hard headed to leave a snake alone, it may get bitten.

The severity of the situation depends on on a number of factors, including:

  • Type of snake. Some snakes are poisonous, others are not. That said, some non-poisonous snakes have a more painful bite that can cause infection. On the other hand, while there’s a chance that poisonous snakes won’t inject venom during a bite, it certainly can be fatal when they do, especially if veterinary attention isn’t immediately sought. Ultimately, it all depends on the type of snake that bit your pet. Some species are more venomous than others, while some have more toxic venom than others. And some snakes have slow-acting venom with negative effects that may not be immediately clear.
  • Amount of venom injected. Because they’re programmed and primed to hunt, snakes’ venom glands are fuller during the warmer months, resulting in a more damaging bite. However, this is also subject to the size and maturity of the snake.
  • Area where the snake bit your pet. Note that the closer the bite is to the heart, the quicker it spreads through the body.

How to Treat a Snake Bite on a Dog

Approximately 80% of pets survive a snake bite if treated quickly, so a prompt response is essential. This involves recognizing the initial symptoms of a snake bite and immediately seeking care.

Recognize the Symptoms

Although the intensity of snake bite symptoms will depend on the factors listed above, watch out to see if your dog is exhibiting any of these signs:

  • Sudden weakness and collapse, followed by your pet getting up normally. This is a symptom characteristic of snake bites — though not the only thing that can cause this type of collapse.
  • Trembling, shaking or twitching of muscles
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Unsteadiness/weakness in hind legs
  • Excessive salivation, drooling or frothing at the mouth
  • Bloody urine
  • Dilated pupils
  • Paralysis

Another important symptom to check for when determining how to treat a snake bite on a dog? Evidence of bite wounds and pain/swelling around a bite site. Snakes will often bite your pet in the face, neck, or legs when the dog tries to catch the snake. In many cases, there may be minimal pain and swelling so this isn’t the most reliable way of determining whether your pet got bitten or not — you still have to watch for the other signs.

Seek Veterinary Assistance for Snake Bites

If you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake, seek veterinary attention immediately. Most pets will survive a snake bite if attended to immediately.

Make sure to call the clinic ahead of your arrival so that the team can make the necessary preparations to treat your pet as soon as you arrive.

Important: You will probably be asked to identify the snake, but do not attempt to catch or kill it. According to experts, a snake is best left alone 90% of the time. If you suspect that the snake is harmful, call Animal Control to handle the situation.

Snake Bite Emergency Care

After calling the veterinary clinic, administer first aid/emergency treatment to minimize the effects of the venom.

Here are some things that you can do in terms of how to treat a snake bite on a dog (but don’t waste time doing this instead of driving to the vet hospital):

  1. If you see the bite wound, rinse the wound with water to remove some venom.
  2. Keep the wound below the heart, and keep your pet as still as possible to discourage the spread of venom.
  3. If your pet isn’t breathing, call the veterinary clinic for instructions for how to administer CPR.
  4. Keep calm. Pets can sense panic, which can cause them stress. An increase in stress levels may cause venom to be circulated in the body more quickly.

What Happens at the Veterinary Clinic When Treating a Snake Bite?

When you get to the clinic, based on the veterinarian’s assessment of severity, bloodwork results, and suspected type of snake, antivenom may be administered. In Colorado, it tends to be a first-line treatment, as rattlesnake bites are common in our area.

Antivenom is commonly administered but in most cases it’s recommended to hospitalize your pet for additional support care. If your pet requires treatment, it usually involves hospitalization for at least 24 hours, but it could be longer. When your pet gets discharged, it will need anywhere between 1-2 weeks of rest.

Final Thoughts: How to Keep Your Pet Safe from Snake Bites

Call it a cliche, but the saying “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” rings true in situations like these. A majority of snake bites are actually the result of pets being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The majority of pet snake bites can be prevented by taking a few of these precautions:

  1. Keep your backyard clean. Snakes can easily be camouflaged by long grass, so make sure to cut your grass often, and do your best to clear your lawn of any food that may attract snake prey (like rodents), as well as items that can be used as hiding places.
  2. Have your dog on a leash. Your dog will be less likely to have an unfortunate snake encounter if you’re keeping a close watch. You can better keep them away from high grass, holes, and rocks if you’re right beside them.
  3. Better yet, enroll your pet in rattlesnake aversion training so they know how to recognize the scent, sound, and sight of a rattlesnake to avoid them when encountered.

A snake bite may be life-threatening for your pet, but with timely medical care, your pet can make a quick recovery.

If you want to proactively protect against the possibility of a snake bite, ask your veterinarian about the rattlesnake vaccine. Designed to help with future rattlesnake bites, this vaccine can be administered to dogs that live in areas with many snakes or that go on hikes often. The vaccine is designed to reduce the severity of signs when a bite occurs.

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