Snake Bites in Your Dog
Snakebites are relatively common in dogs, and it’s important to understand that those bites can sometimes be fatal. Dogs love to explore their surroundings, and a colorful snake or rattling tail isn’t necessarily going to deter them. Oregon is home to two subspecies of the western rattlesnake, the state's only venomous snake. One is found in southwestern Oregon, parts of the Willamette Valley, and in the Columbia Plateau. The other is found in south central and southeastern Oregon.
Rattlesnakes are a type of pit viper, and their venom contains toxic components that cause local and systemic effects that may include tissue and blood vessel damage, red blood cell destruction, bleeding or clotting disorders, and neurologic defects. A rattlesnake bite is often fatal, but if you can get your pup to a vet as soon as possible, there’s a good chance it can survive.
While rattlesnakes may be the state's only venomous snake, non-venomous snake bites can cause infection and are something to keep a close eye on.
Signs of a Snake Bite
Snake bites are not always easy to spot, especially if your dog has thick fur that can hide puncture wounds. Furthermore, puncture wounds are not always visible if there is rapid swelling or the snake was on the smaller side. With rattlesnake bites you can often spot bleeding and swelling right away, especially if your dog was bitten more than once.
The initial sign of a rattlesnake bite is significant swelling, which is due to tissue destruction. Additional signs that may develop immediately or after several hours include:
- Bruising and skin discoloration
- Bleeding at the site
- Pain at the site
- Sudden weakness
- Excessive panting and drooling
- Immediate swelling that progresses over several hours
- Muscle tremors, twitching, or shaking
- Dilated pupils
- Bloody urine
- Slow breathing
In dogs bitten by a non-venomous snake, some swelling and bruising around the bite are the most common signs.
What To Do
Try to stay calm. If you can, try to identify whether the snake was venomous or nonvenomous without putting yourself in danger. Some antivenin is specific to the type of snake, so the more information you have, the better.
Inspect your dog and watch for any of the symptoms listed above. If you notice any of those symptoms, take your dog to an emergency pet clinic right away. If you have cell service, try calling the clinic so they can talk you through the situation and get ready for your arrival.
Carry your dog if you can -- walking or running will make its heart pump faster and speed up the circulation of venom. Try to keep the bitten area at or below the level of your dog’s heart.
Keep your pet calm and warm on the journey to the clinic.
What NOT To Do
- Do not try to give your dog any medications, such as Benadryl, without consulting your veterinarian.
- Do not try to create a tourniquet on the affected part of your dog’s body.
- Do not attempt to suck the venom out.
- Do not attempt to make an “X” cut around the bitten area.
- Do not try to use a Snake Bite Kit or Extractor Pump (this may do more harm than good).
- Do not apply ice to the bite area.
- Do not rub any substances into the snake bite.
- Do not allow your pet to move around.
- Do not attempt to capture the snake.
What’s the Treatment for Snake Bites?
Antivenom is the only proven treatment against pit viper bites. The earlier it’s administered, the more effective it is. Your vet will also run blood tests to monitor your dog’s platelet count as well as clotting. IV fluid support, pain management, antibiotics, and wound monitoring are also required for the best outcome.
If your pup was bitten by a non-venomous snake, the bite will be treated as a puncture wound with wound cleaning, antibiotics, antihistamines, and anti-inflammatory medication.
Tips for Snake Bite Prevention
There are things you can do to significantly reduce the chance of your dog being bitten by a snake.
- Keep your dog on leash to keep it from going off-path or exploring holes, high grass, logs, rocky outcrops, and other areas snakes like to rest or hide.
- Stay on open paths while hiking.
- Keep an ear out for rattling.
- If you see a snake, slowly back away and leave it alone.
Remember, snakes are scared of you, too, and will take the first opportunity they can to get away! They only bite as a last resort.