Dogs and snakes rarely interact with each other. Snakes, even venomous breeds, are shy and easily startled. Upon seeing a dog, the vast majority of snakes will retreat and hide. A belligerent canine may push its luck too far, and the snake will bite in self-defense if it feels afraid or threatened.
If the snake was venomous, the life of any dog will be in immediate danger. Even a healthy adult dog can die within two hours if bitten and envenomated by a rattlesnake or coral snake. Puppies and older dogs, or those with weak hearts, are in even greater danger.
The bite of a non-venomous snake is unlikely to result in mortality. The risk of infection in the puncture wound remains, though. The bite will also be painful for a dog, who may go into a state of shock.
Table of Contents:
- 1 My Dog Was Bitten By a Snake
- 1.1 How Do Dogs React to a Snake Bite?
- 1.2 How Do I Know if My Dog Was Bitten by a Venomous Snake?
- 1.3 Venomous Snakes in the United States
- 1.4 Symptoms of Venom in Dogs
- 1.5 Will a Snake Bite Kill a Dog?
- 1.6 First Aid for Snake Bites on Dogs
- 1.7 Dog Snake Bite Treatment
My Dog Was Bitten By a Snake
In the event of a snake bite on a canine, undertake this three-step process:
- Identify if your dog really was bitten by a snake
- Identify whether the snake was venomous or non-venomous
- Always seek medical assistance from a vet for the bite
Not all snake bites are fatal, but all are dangerous. Even a bite from a non-venomous snake will hurt, and likely bleed.
How Do Dogs React to a Snake Bite?
A dog’s immediate reaction will be to howl in pain. Unless the snake was particularly young or harmless, its teeth will hurt. Some dogs will run from the snake, but others will look to inflict pain in return.
Your first act must be to get the dog away from the snake. Having bitten, the snake will already be agitated. If the dog lunges, it will bite again. Many snakes strike multiple times in succession.
How Do I Know if My Dog Was Bitten by a Venomous Snake?
Assess the dog, looking for a puncture wound. Be certain that it was a snake that attacked your dog. Snake bites resemble two small puncture wounds. There may be bruising and swelling at the site, but this is not guaranteed.
There is a chance that your dog was not bitten by a snake. Spiders, scorpions, and fire ants also bite and sting. The latter two species will inflict pain on a dog, but not risk death. Certain breeds of venomous spiders can cause mortality, though.
If you can, get a good look at the snake that bit your dog. This will help you assess whether venom was administered. Not all snakes are venomous, and some lethal snakes issue a ‘dry bite’. This is a warning – a bite that does not release venom from the fangs.
These will not be fatal. Any bleeding must be stemmed. If the dog goes into shock, this must be managed.
Venomous Snakes in the United States
Not every snake that lives in the wild is dangerous. In fact, of 3,000 species of snake worldwide, just 600 are venomous. This means that just 15% of snakes can directly kill a dog with a bite.
All the same, it pays to be cautious. There are 25 different species of venomous snakes in North America. These belong to four core groups. A bite to your dog from any of the following snakes will require immediate attention, as it will be fatal if left untreated.
If you can, identify the snake that bit your dog. Do not approach the snake to get a closer look. If you did not see the incident, do not go looking for the culprit. Knowing what snake bit your dog will aid treatment, though. Different snake bites require different antidotes.
If a rattlesnake feels threatened or cornered, it will shake its rattle as a warning. Sadly, dogs may have their curiosity piqued by a rattle. A dog is likelier to approach for a closer look, or even attack.
The toxicity of rattlesnake venom varies, but it’s often enough to kill an animal. The eastern diamondback rattlesnake is arguably the most feared. These are the largest venomous snakes in America.
The Journal of the American Animal Hospital Association surveyed 31 dogs bitten by this snake over twenty years. 25 of the dogs survived following immediate treatment. If your dog is bitten by any rattlesnake, its life is in imminent danger.
Copperhead snakes are found in the east of the United States. Texas is the furthest west that these snakes venture. Copperheads have weaker venom than other snakes. Despite this, copperheads are much feared.
This is because copperhead snakes will not flee when confronted. Instead, this snake will freeze in fear. A dog may do the same, or it may stand and stare at the snake in curiosity. If a dog does not walk away, the snake will eventually strike and bite without warning.
Although a copperhead is not as venomous as other snakes, it can still kill a dog. The Australian Veterinary Journal explains how this snake’s bite will paralyze a dog. If left untreated, death will frequently follow.
Cottonmouths (Water Moccasins)
Cottonmouth snakes are vipers that dwell in bodies of water in the southeastern states. If your dog loves swimming, you must be vigilant.
Some shrug off the bite of a cottonmouth as a minor concern. Less than 1% of cottonmouth bites to humans end in fatality. Dogs are at higher risk, though. In addition, cottonmouth venom is cytotoxic. This can potentially lead to necrosis in the bite wound, requiring amputation.
Coral snakes are Elapids, which is the same family as the cobra. Corals have the deadliest venom of any other snake in the U.S. A coral snake may give a dry bite as a warning, releasing no venom at all.
They are shy snakes and are often undetected by humans. You’re most likely to find them hiding in piles of leaves or dead branches. Unfortunately, these are the sort of places that dogs enjoy sniffing and exploring.
Coral snakes are often mistaken for kingsnakes due to a similar appearance. To tell a coral snake from a kingsnake or one of the other lookalike snakes, look at the snake from a safe distance. While you are doing so, repeat this popular mnemonic: “If red touches black, it’s a friend of Jack. If red touches yellow, it could kill a fellow.”
The markings of a coral snake will not be separated by black bands or rings. Those on a kingsnake will usually have these boundaries. This is not failsafe, though. If in any doubt, seek help for a dog that has been bitten.
Symptoms of Venom in Dogs
Your dog may not show immediate symptoms of toxicity after a snake bite. It can take up to two hours for the dog to show a physical reaction. Do not wait and see if your dog shows these signs. If your dog shows any of the following symptoms, escalate treatment to a medical emergency:
- Shaking and twitching, especially around the bite wound
- Trouble breathing
- Dragging of the limbs or other signs of paralysis
- Wide, dilated pupils
- Excessive drooling, especially from one side of the mouth
- Lack of control over the bladder and bowel
- Sudden, intense bouts of vomiting
In these instances, your dog almost certainly has snake venom in its system. A vet will need to administer antivenin to temper this.
Will a Snake Bite Kill a Dog?
Left untreated, a venomous snake bite will kill a dog. How long this takes depends on the dog in question. Chihuahuas will succumb to a snake bite faster than huskies due to their respective sizes. Puppies, older canines and dogs with heart conditions will also die sooner.
The location of the bite will also have an impact. The closer to the heart the dog was bitten, the faster the venom will spread. The heart will pump the venom throughout the body at a rate of knots.
Toxicon acknowledged the mortality rate of dogs bitten by vipers in Asia. This journal noted the following as leading to higher levels of mortality:
- Dog weight below 15 kg
- Bite occurring on a limb
- Bite occurring at night (presumably delaying treatment)
Even so, just 13 of 327 dogs were killed by their snake bites after receiving treatment. This cements how important fast treatment is.
Non-venomous bites can also be fatal, through secondary concerns. The wound could become infected, leading to fatality. The dog could bleed to death. The shock of the incident may lead to heart failure. The dog may have an allergic reaction to the snake’s saliva.
Canine death can be avoided. Most dogs will not be killed on the spot by a snake bite. You will have time to save your dog’s life. You must act without delay. Administer first aid while you wait for professional assistance.
First Aid for Snake Bites on Dogs
If your dog was bitten by a snake, you will understandably be upset and worried. Stay calm. Your dog will already be in pain and frightened by the bite. If you panic, your dog’s heart rate will increase. This will hasten the spread of any venom throughout the body.
Once the dog is breathing steadily, call a vet. Whatever happens, your dog will need to be assessed. With luck, the bite will not be venomous. Attention is still advisable, though.
Once you have made an appointment, keep the dog still. Wherever possible, keep the bite wound level with or below the heart. If the dog was bitten on the paw, for example, encourage it to stand. Do not allow the dog to roll onto its back with legs in the air.
Clean the bite wound with a little water and plain, unscented soap. This will minimize the risk of bacteria getting into the wound and causing infection. Wash your hands afterward, in case you have venom on them. Do not administer any medication unless told to by a vet.
Do not attempt to suck out the venom yourself. This will not help the dog and will place your own life in danger. Do not attempt to cut or burn tissue away from the wound site. Do not apply ice, even if the wound site is swelling. This will damage the tissue and make treatment more difficult.
Until you get to a veterinary surgery, this is all you can do for a snake-bitten dog. Just continue keeping the dog calm and monitor any changes to its behavior or symptoms.
Be aware that first aid alone will not save a dog’s life. It will buy time for essential treatment, though. Administer first aid, then allow a healthcare professional to prevent the bite from killing the dog.
Dog Snake Bite Treatment
Once your dog reaches a veterinary surgery, it will be provided with antivenin. If snakes are common in an area, vets and hospitals will keep this medication in-house.
You will be asked what kind of snake bit your dog. If you do not know, be honest. Different snake venoms are managed with varying antivenin treatments. An expert will be able to identify what snake bit the dog. Treatment will be faster if you have this information to hand, though.
If you act quickly, 80% of dogs will survive a snake bite with treatment. Time matters, so do not delay in your reaction. The 20% part of this statistic that died did not receive treatment in a timely manner.
Once the antivenin is administered, the dog will begin to recover. Overnight observation will likely be required to ensure no secondary concerns present themselves. Thankfully, this is rare. The Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care surveyed 102 dogs bitten by rattlesnakes. Just one suffered an infection afterward, in the form of an abscess.
Once you take your dog home, it will need to rest for a couple of weeks. While snakes will hide from dogs, a bite can be fatal. Avoid allowing your dog to disturb snakes. Keep it on a leash in territory occupied by snakes.