Summer is here and that means spending more time outside with your pets.  Unfortunately, we aren’t the only ones that are out and about enjoying the sunshine.  Its about this time of year that snake bites become an all to common thing that we as veterinarians see and treat.

Living where we do, it is a fact of life that eventually the chances of coming into close contact with a snake are pretty high.  It is important to know what to do if a snake bites your pet and how to tell if your pet has been bitten.

There are two types of snakes in our area, the pit vipers and the coral snakes.  Coral snakes inject a deadly neurotoxin that is often fatal.Thankfully coral snakebites are incredibly rare, only about 1% of all reported snakebites due to their reclusive nature.

The other variety of snake is the pit viper, including cottonmouths, copperheads and rattlesnakes.  These snakes inject a hemotoxic venom. This is far and away the most common type of snakebite that we see in this area.

How to Identify a Snakebite

It is important to be able to recognize the signs of a snakebite in your pet.  The pet will be very painful and the bite will usually be located on the face or the limb.  Sometimes you may see two small puncture wounds but this can be difficult without shaving the area.  You will also notice profound swelling and sometimes bruising very quickly.

If you think that your pet has been bitten by a snake, or you witness it happen, it is important to remain calm. Attempt to identify the snake, but do not put yourself in harm’s way attempting to do so.  Immediately seek medical attention for your dog. Do not place a tourniquet, attempt to suck out the venom or make cuts in your pet’s skin. These treatments have fallen out of favor and have proven ineffective and can actually cause more harm than good.  Do not give your pet any over the counter medication.  Most are toxic to pets and can often complicate the underlying problem.

How to Treat a Snakebite

Once at the veterinarian, it is important that treatment be started as soon as possible.  The degree of treatment is usually dependent on how much venom was injected causing changing in your pet’s blood work.  Your veterinarian will likely want to look at clotting times as the venom affects these. Additionally, a CBC chemistry panel, urinalysis and blood pressure can all be important in determining the severity of the envenomation. Abnormalities on blood work, location of the bite and sometimes the size of your pet will help to determine if your pet will need antivenin. Antivenin is an important treatment but can also cause severe anaphylactic reactions so your veterinarian will make the decision if your pet would benefit from antivenin.

Treatments For Snakebites:

  • Intravenous (IV) pain medication
  • IV fluids
  • Antihistamines
  • Antibiotics
  • Antivenin.

Your pet will likely be in the hospital for observation for 12-24 hours.  Most snakebites are not fatal if treated quickly and appropriately.  The are around the bite may become necrotic or die, but this area will often just slough in a few days and heal.

While is it vitally important to know what to do if your pet is bitten by a snake, it is probably more important to know how to avoid snakes and prevent the bite from ever happening.  Snakes are often found sunning on rocks, pavement, asphalt roads and logs.  They can often be found hiding in underbrush.  Keep your pet on a leash when going out for walks.  If you encounter a snake, stop, get control of your pet, freeze until the snake moves or remove yourself from the area. Treat every snake as if it is venomous and seek medical attention for your pet as soon as possible if your pet is bitten.

Do you think your pet has been bitten by a snake? Contact us!