Your dog is whimpering, and as she slowly staggers toward you, you notice that her face is starting to swell. You can also see that she is carrying something in her mouth. As she gets closer you suddenly realize it isn’t a belt that she’s holding — it’s a snake.
Time is of the essence when treating a snake bite, and experts don’t recommend that you make the wound larger or try to suck the blood out. Instead they say that you should call your vet and immediately bring her to the clinic.
According to Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, dogs typically encounter snakes while playing or working in the snake’s natural habitat: “Most bites to dogs occur on the face or extremities. The rattlesnake bite is generally ‘hemotoxic,’ which means that it exerts its toxin by disrupting the integrity of the blood vessels.”
Mar Vista continues, “The swelling is often dramatic, with up to one-third of the total blood circulation being lost into the tissues in a matter of hours. The toxin further disrupts normal blood clotting mechanisms leading to uncontrolled bleeding. This kind of blood loss induces shock and finally death. Facial bites are often more lethal as the swelling may occlude the throat or impair ability to breathe.”
What Should I Do If My Dog Is Bitten by a Snake?
- Identification – Identify the snake if possible. This will help the vet determine how to treat your dog.
- Restrict movement of your dog – This will help the venom from spreading.
- If your dog is bitten on an extremity, loosely immobilize the limb in a functional position.
- DO NOT bite the wound since human saliva contains many bacteria and may result in severe infection.
- DO NOT apply a tourniquet without veterinary assistance. A tourniquet will significantly affect circulation to the area and may result in serious tissue damage.
- DO NOT apply ice to the area.
- Seek immediate treatment from your vet or emergency animal clinic.
What are the Symptoms of a Snake Bite?
For a mild to moderate case of a snake bite, PetEducation.com and PetMD.com report that your dog may show any of these symptoms:
- One, two or several small puncture wounds
- Extreme painful swelling at the site of the bite
- Dead tissue
- Inability to bark
In more severe cases, it may take your dog a few hours to experience the following conditions:
- Lethargy and weakness
- Muscle Tremors
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slow breathing
- Reduced spinal reflexes
How is a Snake Bite Diagnosed?
Your vet may administer Antivenin to your dog. There is some controversy surrounding Antivenin because it is expensive (at least $100-$200 per vial), and larger dogs need several vials, which can add up. There is also a possibility that your dog may have a severe allergic reaction and will likely develop a sensitivity to Antivenin afterward, which will make it even more risky if your pooch gets bitten again.
“It must be given within the first four hours of the pet being bitten, as the potency decreases as time passes,” according to PetEducation.com. “Your pet will observed for a minimum of 12 hours, even when there are no clinical signs. If clinical signs are present, the length of observation will be increased to 48-72 hours, as damage to organs may not appear immediately.”
PetPlace.com adds that Diphenhydramine is sometimes given to help reduce some signs of the allergic reaction that is associated with the snakebite. The website also notes, “If the bite occurs in the area of the throat, airway support may be needed, including a temporary tracheotomy or ventilator.”
How Is a Snake Bite Treated?
According to Mar Vista, these are the goals of treating your dog’s snake bite:
- IV Fluids – Dogs bitten by rattlesnakes most commonly die because their circulatory systems collapse. For this reason, it is very important your dog is given IV support and her blood pressure is monitored for signs of it dropping.
- Antivenin – Your dog may be administered Anitvenin through an IV for at least 30 minutes. Although this method is effective, the potency drops about four hours after your dog is bitten.
- Antihistamines – These may help with the inflammation from the snake bite, but will be more effective preventing an allergic reaction to the Antivenin. The antihistamines can also help to keep your dog relaxed and calm while being treated.
- Other Treatments – Your dog may need a blood transfusion if she has lost a significant amount of blood. She may also be given antibiotics to control and prevent secondary infections. Pain medications can be provided to ease her discomfort.
Can I Prevent My Dog from Getting Bitten by a Snake?
It’s up to you to restrict your dog’s access to snake-infested areas, since it’s unlikely your dog will voluntarily avoid snakes in the future, notes PetPlace.com.
According to Mar Vista, there is also a vaccine available that protects against the venom of six out of seven California rattlesnakes, and there is effective cross-protection against numerous other venomous snakes native to areas outside California.
Find A Vet HOW TO articles are intended for informational purposes only. You should always consult with your veterinarian about any health issues affecting your dog.