With summer in full-swing, I, THE Original Hipster Hound, Rex, have been spending a lot of time outside enjoying the warm weather and long walks. My mom, Tonya, and I have been exploring different paths all over Georgia, but some of my favorite places to hike are right here in Savannah like Wormsloe Historic Site and Skidaway Island State Park. During one of our long walks, I crossed paths with a snake! Luckily, it slithered away and left me alone, but it made me realize that if the snake had bitten me, my mom and I wouldn’t have known what to do! So before we went for our next hike, we looked up what to do for a dog who is bitten by a snake, and we wanted to share our findings with all my Hipster Hound friends.
Snakes are cold-blooded animals that can be found in just about any type of climate: desert, forest, swamp, and grassland. Being cold-blooded, snakes don’t have the necessary means to regulate their body temperatures on their own, so they seek out warm places. During winter, they hibernate under rocks, in tunnels, burrows, and even in our houses. But when snakes come out during warmer months to seek prey, there’s a chance they will cross paths with a curious dog.
Types of Snakes
Apart from gathering food, a snake has no reason to bite other creatures. Since they don’t have limbs or claws, they bite out of defense. When a dog is curious or too hard headed to leave a snake alone, it may get bitten. If you can spot the snake that bit your dog, that information will be helpful to the vet and may help dictate the treatment plan:
- Rattlesnakes are brown or reddish with clear patterns on the back and rattles on the end of the tail. In general, pit vipers have slit-eyed pupils like a cat (compared to round pupils in non-poisonous snakes), pits beneath their eyes, big arrow-shaped heads, rough scales, and a pair of fangs in the upper jaw
- Water moccasins live near streams or in swamps. They reach four to six feet in length and are dark brown to black. The inside of the mouth is white, giving the snake its "cottonmouth" nickname.
- Copperheads have a red-brown coloring, an hourglass marking, and a distinctive copper-colored head. They reach about two to four feet in length and hang out around leaf litter and woodpiles.
- Coral snakes can be recognized by their small black-nosed head and vividly banded body that is colored red, yellow, white, and black. Red and yellow bands are always next to each other.
Recognize the Symptoms of a Snake Bite on Dogs
Approximately 80% of pets survive a snake bite if treated quickly, so immediate response is essential. This involves recognizing the initial symptoms of a snake bite:
- Evidence of bite wounds with pain/swelling around a bite site
- Sudden weakness and collapse, followed by your pet getting up normally.
- Trembling, shaking, or twitching of muscles
- Diarrhea and/or vomiting
- Unsteadiness/weakness in hind legs
- Excessive salivation, drooling, or frothing at the mouth
- Bloody urine
- Dilated pupils
Snake Bite Treatment
If your dog has been bitten by a poisonous snake, get to the emergency vet immediately. Snake bites are diagnosed by identification of the snake, characteristics of the wound, and behavior of the pup. They are treated with antivenom given within four to eight hours after the bite. Before you get to the vet, you can follow these steps to help save your dog’s life:
- Remove collar/harness: The poison can cause shock, paralysis, or make the nostrils or windpipe swell shut. Remove the pup's collar or harness so that if it's body swells, the airways remain unrestricted. Be prepared to give your puppy rescue breathing.
- Stay calm: Keep your dog as calm as possible on the way to the vet. Any movement can speed up the poison’s spread through the blood circulation.
- Make it cold: Turn up the AC in the car to help slow down circulation. Apply an ice pack directly to the wound, even a package of frozen vegetables will work. Keep the ice on until you reach the vet's office.
- Wipe wound: If you can see bite marks, rinse the wounds with water or a baby wipe to get the venom off the dog's body.
- Remove venom: You can invest in a vacuum pump for snake bites (included in snakebite kits) that have been shown to remove 30 percent of the venom when used promptly.
Once you arrive at the vet's office, they will examine your dog and likely treat it with antivenin, which is a serum that neutralizes the effects of the snake venom. Some antivenin is specific to the type of snake that bit the dog, so the more information you have, the vet will be better able to treat your dog. When your dog gets discharged, he will need anywhere between 1-2 weeks of rest.
Preventing Snake Bites?
There is no perfect way to prevent snake bites in dogs. A majority of snake bites are actually the result of pets being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The best method is to supervise your dog, especially in areas where snakes are present. Your dog will be less likely to have an unfortunate snake encounter if you’re keeping a close watch. You can better keep them away from high grass, holes, and rocks if you’re right beside them.
Snakes can easily be camouflaged by long grass, so make sure to cut the grass in your yard often, and do your best to clear your lawn of any food that may attract snake prey (like rodents), as well as items that can be used as hiding places. It’s always easier to avoid and prevent tragedy than to deal with the aftermath!
Rex, The Original Hipster Hound