Depending on where you live, snake bites on dogs can pose a real threat. There are about 20 kinds of venomous snakes throughout the United States. These include rattlesnakes and copperheads, most commonly found in areas with dry marsh, mountain and pine forest.
There are about 20 venomous snakes throughout the United States, but not all species of snakes are dangerous. Of course, it depends where you live, but according to Venombyte.com, there is at least one kind of venomous snake in every state in the U.S. except for Alaska.
“Non-poisonous snakes, like the garter snake, don’t have fangs. They have rows of teeth and they do not produce toxic venom,” says Dr. Travis Arndt, director of Animal Medical Center of Mid-America.
This distinction is crucial when it comes to snake bites on dogs, Dr. Arndt explains. “So, if you or your dog are bitten by a non-poisonous snake, you won’t see the two puncture wounds that you would see from a venomous snake. A non-poisonous bite can still become infected, so you will want to contact your veterinarian right away if your dog has been bitten.”
The severity of snake bites on dogs often has to do with the type of snake. According to Dr. Arndt, there are a few snakes whose bites can be particularly fatal and dog owners should watch out for them.
“Bites from a venomous snake, like the copperhead, water moccasin, rattlesnake or Eastern coral, require immediate medical attention,” Dr. Arndt explains.
Copperhead snakes can be found along the Eastern seaboard spanning from New York to Nebraska. Water moccasin snakes — also known as cottonmouths — have an exceptionally dangerous bite that can lead to death. They’re most commonly found in marshes, swamps, warm streams and lakes on the east coast.
Similarly, rattlesnake bites can cause hemorrhaging. There are a few species of rattlesnakes, but they typically live in the southeastern states of the U.S., including the coastal regions of Florida. Lastly, the Eastern coral snake has some of the most potent venom in North America. However, they are nocturnal and not really known for striking humans or dogs. The Eastern coral snake can be found in places like Texas, Arkansas and Louisiana.
A key part of knowing if a dog is suffering from a snake bite is witnessing the snake bite happen or physically seeing the snake. There are some symptoms to look out for when it comes to snake bites on dogs.
“If your dog has been bitten by a snake, you may notice puncture wounds from fangs or from the rows of teeth,” Dr. Arndt explains. “There will be pain and swelling around the bite area, and your dog may have increased salivation, vomiting, diarrhea or respiratory problems.”
In cases of bites that have caused localized damage, symptoms may include swelling or bruising around the bite, bleeding around the wound and visible pain. In cases of bites that have caused systemic effects, symptoms may include clotting abnormalities and seizures.
Other potential symptoms of snake bites on dogs might include shaking and tremors, excessive salivation (known as ptyalism), rapid and shallow breathing, tissue damage, discoloration and bleeding from wound, vomiting, blood in urine, incontinence, dilated pupils, muscle contractions, loss of bodily function (ataxia), limb weakness (tetraparesis), collapse and paralysis.
Knowing what species of snake did the biting is the easiest route to diagnosing snake bites on dogs. That’s the easiest way to establish if snake bites on dogs are poisonous or totally harmless. But that can be hard.
“Most of the time the diagnosis of snake bite is made because the owner or someone else witnessed the bite,” says Dr. Arndt. “Seeing the puncture wounds can be difficult because of the swelling and pain produced by the bite.”
This is one of the many reasons why it’s so important to supervise your dog when outside.
Treatment for snake bites on dogs is really dependent on the type of snake bite. As Dr. Arndt says, there is no universal anti-venom, unfortunately.
“While anti-venom is available, many times dogs are not treated with it,” he explains. “This is because there is not a universal anti-venom and the cost can be prohibitive. Most pets are treated symptomatically for pain, swelling and infection. If respiratory distress occurs, anti-venom is generally used.”
Other treatment options can include fluids through IV, antivenin, pain relief medication and, of course, very close monitoring of the dogs’ symptoms and response to medication.
The most important part of treating snake bites on dogs is getting it done quickly. In most cases where dogs bitten by snakes receive veterinary treatment, the odds of survival and recovery are good. But waiting to treat snake bites on dogs can cause massive repercussions.
“Dogs that receive veterinary treatment quickly have a very good prognosis,” Dr. Arndt says. “Delaying treatment even for just a few hours can be deadly.”
So, how do you avoid all the awful stuff associated with snake bites on dogs in the first place? Prevention is a huge part of keeping your dog safe from snake bites and ensuring that he doesn’t suffer a snake bite.
“Keep your grass cut short and keep your yard tidy to reduce the chances of a snake hanging out near your home,” Dr. Arndt says. “If you enjoy hiking with your dog or taking him to places where you may come in contact with snakes, keep your dog on a leash and stick to the trail.”
Steering clear of tall grass is also key (which is a crucial tip for avoiding other harmful animals and insects that can bite like spiders and ticks).
“Avoid tall grasses and places where snakes hide,” Dr. Arndt adds. “You may even consider a training class to teach your dog to stay away from snakes.”
Other keys to preventing snake bites on dogs include —
Stephanie Osmanski is a freelance writer and social media consultant who specializes in health and wellness content. Her words have appeared in Seventeen, Whole Dog Journal, Parents Magazine and more. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Stony Brook Southampton and writing a memoir. She lives in New York with her Pomsky, Koda, who is an emotional support animal training to be a certified therapy dog.