If you were walking your dog and came across a snake, you’d know what to do. You wouldn’t approach it. You’d give it time to escape. If it didn’t move, you’d find another path. Unfortunately, dogs don’t realize that they should avoid venomous snakes, which is why they can get bitten.
It’s vital that you don’t rely on any home remedies or pseudoscientific methods to treat your dog after a snake bite. Only a vet can diagnose and treat a venomous bite wound.
- 1 Will a Snake Bite Kill a Dog?
- 2 Dog Snake Bite Symptoms
- 3 Where Will Dogs Encounter Snakes?
- 4 Where Do Snakes Bite Dogs?
- 5 Most Venomous Snakes for Dogs
- 6 Snake Bite Treatment for Dogs
- 7 Things to Avoid if a Snake Bites Your Dog
- 8 How to Stop Your Dog Getting Bitten by Snakes
Will a Snake Bite Kill a Dog?
Snake bites can be fatal for a dog. It all depends on which snake bit your dog. Rattlesnakes are among the worst as their venom is potent enough to kill a dog without treatment.
It also depends on where a snake has bitten your dog. A bite on the face is more serious, and usually has more complications than bites elsewhere. The closer to the heart that the snake bites your dog, the quicker it will experience any adverse effects.
Dog Snake Bite Symptoms
The first thing you’ll notice if a snake bites your dog is your dog’s reaction. You might hear them barking at the snake. Alternatively, they might give off a loud yelp when the snake bites them.
The effects differ depending on how venomous the snake is. A study in AVS examined 53 dogs that were bitten by the European adder. They found that the dog’s reaction to the snake bite included:
- Localized swelling where the snake bit the dog.
- Shock immediately after the bite. This is like a shock in people, where the dog seems a little fazed, less responsive to their surroundings.
- Depression for a short duration. The dogs were clearly in pain and unhappy.
- Some of the dogs had a cardiac injury, as evidenced by heart murmurs and palpitations.
- One of the dogs had moderate liver problems as a result of the venom.
Your dog may also experience muscle tremors several hours after the bite. They’ll also likely be weaker. In the worst case scenario, some of their tissue may begin to die around the site of the bite.
The symptoms and severity depend on where the dog was bitten, how much venom was injected, and how long it took you to find a veterinarian.
Another study in Veterinary Record reported similar results. The scientists reported that 2/3 of dogs experienced both local and systemic (throughout the body) effects.
Aside from low mood and swelling, this study also reported hyperthermia, which is a high temperature. In about 55% of cases, antivenom was used, which reduced the duration of edema (fluid collecting at the site of swelling).
Where Will Dogs Encounter Snakes?
Dogs are, obviously, most likely to be bitten by a snake when they’re outside. That’s why the study reported that snake bites were most common in the early afternoon, between 3 pm and 4 pm, when many people were walking their dogs. There are a few that you should look out for:
- Long grass and undergrowth, where snakes like to hide.
- Fallen logs and branches, again, where snakes will hide from predators or hunt for prey.
- In streams, ponds, and lakes (i.e. water snakes or cottonmouths).
- Your own yard. Snakes can easily get into your yard, through the fence or gate, or through climbing a tree and dropping in unexpectedly.
If you’re a snake owner, then your pet snake might bite your dog. It’s unwise to ever take them out of their enclosure when there are other animals around.
Your dog might be friendly to you, but animals are unpredictable. A loud noise could startle the snake or the dog, and before you know it, the snake could bite.
Where Do Snakes Bite Dogs?
Snakes usually bite dogs on the face. That’s not through choice, it’s just how it happens when a snake encounters a dog. The dog will be sniffing around in the long grass or fallen leaves, for example, when they accidentally disturb the snake.
The snake will then lash out at the dog. Alternatively, the dog will have seen the snake and might be growling at it. Again, the nose would be the closest thing to the snake and the easiest to bite. You’re therefore most likely to see snakes bite your dog on their:
- Around the eyes
A snake can bite your dog anywhere on their body. It depends what they’re closest to at the time. If a dog walks past the snake without noticing them, then there’s a chance the snake could bite them somewhere else. Your dog could be bitten on its:
- Stomach or underside
- Front or rear feet
This is especially likely if the dog accidentally stands on top of the snake. The snake will feel very threatened. They’re then likely to lash out at any part of the dog.
Most Venomous Snakes for Dogs
Snake bites are 25 times more dangerous for dogs than they are for humans.
All snake bites that are venomous to people are venomous to dogs, too. However, the venom is more potent in a dog’s system than a human’s system. That’s because the dog is smaller.
The good news is that snakes don’t always envenomate when they strike. This is called ‘feigned striking’, where the snake lashes out and bumps into you with their nose instead of biting you. They can also choose to use just a little venom or a lot.
According to MJAFI, in about 20% of pit vipers, elapid and sea snake bites they don’t inject venom at all. So, even a proper bite might not hurt your dog.
You also don’t have to worry as much if you have a very big dog, like a Doberman or a German Shepherd. When a big dog like a hunting dog is bitten by a snake, they’ll typically be fine.
They will experience moderate to severe swelling, but don’t stand much risk of passing away. It’s smaller dogs like chihuahuas, terriers and the like that you have to worry about. These dogs are small enough that the venom acts much faster.
There are many, many different kinds of rattlesnake—36 species in total, and about 70 subspecies. They’re responsible for the majority of venomous snake bites in dogs in North America.
In particular, the western diamond rattlesnake is highly venomous and is the number one cause of venomous snake bites in the U.S.
Fortunately, antivenom for rattlesnake bites works no matter which species or subspecies your dog was bitten by. Dogs can die very quickly after being bitten by a rattlesnake—as little as ten minutes.
It all depends on the dose of venom that your dog receives. Rattlesnake venom also affects big dogs in a way that no other North American snake can, so take them to the vet as soon as possible.
Copperheads are indigenous to the eastern United States, from Connecticut and the surrounding area all the way south and west to Texas. They’re a venomous snake, but if you’re talking about snake venom and its effects on us, then rattlesnakes are definitely worse than copperheads.
Dogs, though, are a different story. Because they’re smaller, copperhead venom has a worse effect on dogs than it does on us. There’s a very slim chance that your dog could die if it’s bitten by a copperhead. However, it’s much more likely that they’ll live to tell the tale.
In terms of copperhead snake bite dog symptoms, they’ll experience local swelling and a little bit of oozing from the wound. But that should be all.
Cottonmouths are native to the southeastern United States, from Texas all the way east to Florida, and north to Virginia. Also known as water moccasins, they hang out near streams, ponds, and rivers.
In places like Tennessee, where rattlesnakes are rare, cottonmouths are the most venomous snake. Their venom is designed to incapacitate and kill very small animals in a short amount of time.
On a dog, it takes longer to act. However, if you leave the venom to act for a day or more, then it can cause kidney, heart or respiratory failure. Because a cottonmouth bite can kill a dog, you should take them to the vet straight away.
Garter snakes are one of the most common in North America. You can find them anywhere from central or southern Mexico all the way north to Canada, and from the east coast to the west.
Scientists think that they have a weak kind of venom that incapacitates and kills small prey. It was only in the early 2000s that we discovered they have any venom at all—that’s how weak it is.
However, this isn’t enough to pose a serious risk to a medium or large size dog. If your dog is quite small, like a chihuahua, it could still pose a minor threat. You’ll likely see some swelling.
Kingsnakes are a family of snakes you can find all across the United States, and the rest of the Americas too. There are several different species in the family. The most well known is probably the California Kingsnake, which lives in California and other adjacent states.
Kingsnakes are non-venomous. They’re constrictors, which means that they kill prey by squeezing it rather than using venom. Kingsnakes catch, bite and constrict other snakes which is how they got their name (because they’re the king of snakes).
If one bites your dog, you don’t have to worry. The worst that will happen is that the site may become slightly infected, just like any other wound can.
The only problem with kingsnakes is that they look a lot like coral snakes. And while kingsnakes are nonvenomous and can’t harm your dog, coral snakes definitely can.
In fact, they’re one of the most venomous snakes in the U.S. The only reason they’re not considered as dangerous as rattlesnakes are their fangs aren’t as effective at biting big prey since they (and the coral snake itself) are smaller than the rattlesnake.
Coral snakes and kingsnakes have similar banded markings. The big difference is that the coral snake’s red bands touch their yellow bands.
The kingsnake developed their markings after the coral snake, in an attempt to look more dangerous. This helps keep predators away, since they’re scared of coral snakes.
Anyway, a coral snake bite can seriously injure a dog. If the snake managed to inject enough venom when they bit your dog, they’ll need medical assistance.
Their venom contains a nerve toxin that stops prey from being able to breathe once they’ve been bitten. They need antivenom, and quickly. That’s especially the case if the dog is quite small.
Gopher snakes are quite similar to kingsnakes, in that they’re a nonvenomous snake that looks like a dangerous one. Gopher snakes have evolved to look quite a lot like rattlesnakes.
It’s a similar color to a rattlesnake, but what really makes it seem like one is its defensive behavior. When you threaten a gopher snake, they’ll rattle their tail, a lot like a rattlesnake will.
A gopher snake doesn’t have a ‘rattle’. Real rattlesnakes have dead, hollow tail-sections that they keep after a shed. These are made of a substance like our nails, and they rattle and click against each other when a rattlesnake shakes its tail. Gopher snakes just have regular tails, but they buzz them against the ground, especially the foliage. This makes a very similar, scary noise.
But when they bite, it’s really nothing to worry about. They’re non-venomous and prefer to constrict their prey instead. The worst they’ll do is give your dog a small bite. In the worst case, this might become slightly infected, so keep the wound clean.
Rat snakes, again, are non-venomous. While they’re quite large, they’re non-threatening and are actually docile enough to be good pets. The corn snake is an example.
If a rat snake bites your dog in the wild, just like the gopher snake, the worst that will happen is that the wound becomes infected. Keep it clean using an antiseptic.
If your dog is bitten by a pet snake, the same applies. However, it’s important to handle a pet snake safely. Never take a snake out of their enclosure when there are other pets or animals around.
Otherwise, it’s likely to cause an accident. Instead, shut the door before you take them out of their enclosure for handling, bathing or any other reason.
Snake Bite Treatment for Dogs
If you suspect that your dog was bitten by a snake, take them to a vet immediately. They’ll be able to determine whether they were bitten. If possible, you should take a photo of the snake so that they can identify what antivenom they’ll need to use.
Snake Bite Antivenom for Dogs
There is no home remedy or treatment that will counter the venom acting on their system. However, there is antivenom that you can use, just as if you were bitten by a snake. It’s called ‘antivenin’.
How does antivenin work? It’s a very complicated process. First, you have to take rattlesnake venom and inject it into a sheep. A doctor will then harvest the antibodies that the sheep produces, which is what you then use as antivenin.
Needless to say, this complicated process means that antivenin is quite expensive. You then take the antivenin and inject it into whoever or whatever was bitten by the snake.
Since rattlesnakes are the most likely venomous North American snake to bite you, rattlesnake antivenom is the most commonly produced.
How Much Does Snake Antivenom Cost for a Dog?
Taking your dog to the vet to have them treated for a snake bite is quite expensive.
Antivenin itself costs about $400 per shot, but depending on the severity of the bite and of the symptoms, your dog may require more than one shot.
The vet may also administer painkillers for your dog, antibiotics to clean the wound, and charge for their time. In total, it’s likely that the bill will amount to $2000 or so.
However, the exact price depends on the kind of antivenom you need. Less common antivenoms cost more than rattlesnake antivenin, naturally.
Of course, you don’t always need to take your dog to the vet to have them checked and treated with antivenom. However, if you don’t get your dog seen by a medical specialist, then they could die.
Vaccinations for Dogs Against Snake Bites
If you live in an area where you’re likely to encounter lots of snakes when walking your dog, then you should have them vaccinated.
The rattlesnake vaccine, for example, dramatically reduces the effect of their venom on dogs. It works by encouraging the dog’s natural immune system to create more antibodies that will protect them against the venom (which, really, is how all vaccines work).
If you’re worried about vaccines, there’s no need to be. The rattlesnake vaccine for dogs is laboratory tested and approved by vets, the government and professional health bodies.
Side effects of the vaccine are very limited in both number and degree. The worst that will happen if your dog receives the vaccine is that they’ll get a small lump around where it was injected, which will go away on its own. They may also experience flu-like symptoms for a few days, up to a week.
The vaccine won’t completely stop the action of the venom. However, it will reduce the severity of the problem. It may also delay the venom’s negative effects
If this makes you uncomfortable, consider the alternative. Rattlesnake bites have severe complications, and in cases where your dog is quite small or weak for whatever reason, can be fatal.
The mild side effects of the vaccine are definitely preferable to severe injury, scarring or worse. Your dog will need regular booster shots to make sure that the vaccine still works. Ask your vet for more information on when exactly they’ll need them.
Home Treatment for Dog Snake Bites
If your dog has been to the vet and received its antivenom, it will take between two and four days for the swelling to go down and for them to return to their normal mood.
During this time, you can treat their wounds with antibiotics to prevent them from becoming infected. You can either use something that the vet prescribed or something like basic chlorhexidine. Don’t use hydrogen peroxide, as this can damage your dog’s healthy tissue.
To help with infection, you can give them penicillin. Penicillin for dogs is perfectly safe, and if you got some from your vet, it would only be the same stuff that you could buy for yourself.
The penicillin will stop the infection from getting worse. It’s an internal antibiotic that destroys bacterial cells while leaving your dog’s cells alone.
You can also give them Benadryl to help with the swelling. As you probably know, Benadryl stops swelling and allergic reactions. It’s safe for dogs, you just have to make sure that you give them the correct dosage. The standard dose is 1mg of Benadryl per pound of body weight. So, if you have a 5lb chihuahua, they should have a 5mg dose.
Unfortunately, snake bites can leave permanent scarring. If the swelling becomes bad enough, it will stretch out their skin in the area around the wound. It may also leave a nasty scar when the swelling goes down. This can occur after both venomous and non-venomous bites, although it’s more common after a venomous bite.
Things to Avoid if a Snake Bites Your Dog
Unfortunately, there are lots of myths about snake bites that are supposed to assist recovery. They can make the problem worse if they do anything at all.
In no particular order, you should avoid:
- Cutting open the swollen area around the bite.
- Sucking out the venom.
- Trying to capture the snake, so that you can show it to the vet.
- Putting a tourniquet on the affected limb. Tourniquets are for restricting blood flow into and out of the limb. However, by the time you make one and apply it, the venom has already spread through your dog’s system.
- Using anything to try and ‘draw out’ the venom. There are all sorts of folk remedies like wrapping the wound and dousing it in gas, kerosene, fresh onion, butter and all sorts of other stuff. The idea that these things could ‘draw out’ toxins is nonsense. The dog’s own immune system is what will fight off the venom.
How to Stop Your Dog Getting Bitten by Snakes
Preventing snake bites isn’t always possible. Because of their camouflage, you won’t always be able to spot them. And because both venomous and non-venomous snakes are common across the U.S., you can’t completely avoid them no matter how hard you try.
Here are some tips and advice to follow:
- Keeping your dog on its leash at all times. The shorter the leash, the less chance they’ll run off and get bitten.
- Sticking to well-worn paths and tracks, rather than going off into the long grass.
- Keep an eye on your dog when you’re walking.
- If you see a snake blocking the path ahead, stop. Stay still for a minute or so and see if it tries to escape. If it doesn’t, turn around and take another path. There’s no point trying to get it to move using a rock or a stick, for example, as this would just make it angry.
You should also consider snake-proofing your yard. This involves making sure that there are no gaps between fence posts and no overhanging trees or branches that they could use as a ‘ladder’ to get into your property. Use mesh wiring at the bottom of each wall to prevent them from climbing up to reach high windows or the attic.
If your dog has already been bitten by a snake, take them to the vet without delay. Don’t try to capture the snake as you could also get bitten. Instead, note any of the snake’s markings and colors if you’re unable to take a picture.
Snake bites aren’t fatal for dogs if bitten by a non-venomous snake. If a venomous snake has bitten your dog, you need to act swiftly. Your dog will need to be given the right anti-venom.