Lethal snake bites are more or less common in our canine friends, especially compared to other species. Some dog breeds are tiny, which means that the venum quantity can become fatal, especially if they don’t receive veterinary assistance as soon as possible. By contrast, farm animals rarely die from a snake bite due to their larger size.
In this post, we’ll look at some of the symptoms that you can notice if your dog was bitten by a snake, how this health problem is diagnosed, and how it is treated.
Since there are over 25 species of poisonous snakes in Canada and the United States, the likelihood of your pooch being bitten by one, especially during a walk in the woods, is quite high.
It’s true that not all snakes release venom when they bite, but even the ones that aren’t venomous can cause local lesions, pain, and inflammation at the bite site. If the snake that has bitten your dog is venomous, it can cause severe problems to the point that your pet’s life is in danger.
Here are the symptoms that you will notice in a dog that was bitten by a non-venomous snake:
- A hematoma or inflammation at the bite site
- Puncture wounds
- Localized bleeding
- Pain when being touched on that body area
- Infection (if the bite isn’t disinfected and treated right away)
The dogs that are unlucky enough to be bitten by a venomous snake show more severe signs. Here are several:
- Tremors, shaking, excessive drooling
- Breathing changes (the dog breathes more rapidly)
- Muscle contractions, collapse, behavioral changes (most dogs become alarmed)
- Dilated pupils
- Weakness, paralysis
- Vomiting, diarrhea, the presence of blood in the dog’s urine
Not all of these symptoms can be discerned on a dog that was bitten by a snake. The clinical manifestations depend on whether the snake was venomous or not, but also on the amount of venom that got into the dog’s body and the exact body region where your pooch was bitten.
It’s universally acknowledged that a bite site that’s closer to the animal’s heart is more dangerous as it can reach the blood flow and spread throughout its body more rapidly. Even horses and cattle can die after being bitten by a snake if the wound is closer to their hearts.
What to do
First of all, if you believe that your dog was bitten by a snake, whether you’ve actually seen it or not (so you could tell if it’s a venomous species), get to the vet clinic right away. Sometimes, even a couple of hours can make a difference when it comes to preventing a dog’s death, especially in this situation.
If you managed to kill and capture the snake and you don’t know what species it is, take it with you to the vet clinic so that the veterinarian identifies it and knows what treatment to administer to your dog.
How are snake bites in dogs treated?
If your dog was bitten by a non-venomous snake, the vet will clean the bite site and then prescribe antibiotics, analgesics, and anti-inflammatories. If the snake was venomous, there are several therapies that the veterinarian will use, but they all depend on the location of the bite (as those closer to the heart call for immediate and powerful treatment), its severity, and also the exact species of snake.
In most cases, though, the vet will administer antivenom just to be on the safe side of things. However, this needs to happen in the course of several hours after the incident. If you know that the vet clinic is far from your home, leave now — this could save your dog’s life.
The vet is also likely to administer a variety of medications from corticosteroids to IV fluids, anticonvulsants, and the typical antibiotics and anti-inflammatories. The dog might also have to be mechanically oxygenated if he can’t breathe on his own.
It’s common for your Fido to have to stay at the clinic for a period of at least one to two days so that he’s kept under close observation. Many dogs that suffer a mild case of snake bite will recover in just several days, but some aren’t as lucky.
On top of everything, many snakes contain dangerous bacteria in their mouths, and some of the germs can be particularly hard to kill. For example, rattlesnakes are known to have Clostridium spp, Pseudomonas spp, and even Staphylococcus spp in their mouths.
Broad spectrum antibiotics such as amoxicillin/clavulanate are, therefore, administered even if the wound isn’t deep, there is no necrotic tissue, and the dog has a lower chance of developing an infection.
If you’ve called the vet clinic or you’re on your way there, there are some things that you can do to prevent the venom from spreading into your dog’s body. Try to keep the wound at a lower level so that it is below your pet’s heart.
Wash the bite site with water to try to get rid of at least a small amount of the venom. If your dog stops breathing, administer CPR (you should ask your vet how to do it right after getting your dog for the first time). Give your dog some Benadryl for pain as it can alleviate some of the symptoms.
As difficult as it might be, try to keep your calm. Dogs are able to sense panic and some can get seriously anxious if they tell that their pet parents are frightened.
Preventing snake bites in dogs
If you know that you live in an area where snakes are common, particularly in the summer, try to keep the grass in your backyard well-trimmed so that you can notice them if they show up. Always keep your dog on a leash when you go out to the park and even in the woods, if you know that ‘snakes are in season’.
These days, you can even ask your vet about a ‘rattlesnake vaccine’, which can be administered to dogs that are older than 4 months and that have a higher likelihood of being exposed to snakes while hiking, walking, or even outdoors, in the backyard.