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Snake Bites & Your Pet- Mid South Pet Health

Posted 06.25.14 by Kim Swift

Snakes are very common in North America, and the most scary aspect of this are the ones who are considered venomous. There were over 8,000 snake bite reports in people in the U.S. last year, 12 of which were reported as fatal. Sadly there is no statistical information for the number of bites in dogs or cats, but we know the number would be very high. Snake bites are something that every veterinary clinic will experience on an annual basis. We want to give you some basic information on snake bites and your pet so you can be prepared and know what to do should the situation ever arise.

The Snakes to Worry About

There are 4 venomous snakes present in the United States: rattlesnakes, water moccasins, copperheads, and the coral snake.

In the Memphis area we have 3 of the possible 4 venomous snakes. The most common venomous snakes here are the Water Moccasin (aka Cottonmouth) or the Copperhead. On rare occasions, a rattlesnake can be spotted in this area, but it is not very common.

 Snake bites most commonly occur when the snake feels threatened and reverts to a defensive state. They are typically more severe with smaller or younger snakes compared to older snakes. This is because a young snake cannot control the amount of venom they release upon a bite whereas an adult only uses the smallest amount of venom necessary to have the desired effect, sometimes using none at all which is called a “dry bite”. Snake bites are also commonly worse in the spring because the snakes have been hibernating and have more venom stored compared to when they are using it on a regular basis following a more active lifestyle.


What Should You Do?

If your dog has been bitten by a venomous snake the best thing to do is to get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Do not try to suck out the venom or cut open the bite area. These are techniques that simply won’t work for your pet. The sooner you get them to a vet, the sooner we can start treatment, and the better the prognosis for your pet. If you see your pet bit, please try to take a picture of the snake so we can best identify what species of snake it is (but please only do so from a safe distance or if it is dead!).

What to Expect

Snake bites will be different in every animal, every time. There are many variables involved in the severity including the size and age of the snake, the size of the pet, the amount of venom injected, and the location of the bite. Swelling around the site of the bite is the most common side effect. This can vary greatly from mild local swelling to a full blown reaction where the entire head, neck, and face can swell. The next most common effect is bruising and possible necrosis, or death of the skin. Again this can vary from mild bruising around the site to the loss of a significant amount of skin around the bite wound. This is why involving your veterinarian is very important to provide the best care for your pet.

What Will the Doctor Do?

The first thing your veterinarian will do is make sure your pet is stable. Like people, dogs can have a severe allergic reaction to the venom which can be immediately life threatening. If this is the case then we must act quickly and we will discuss in depth the treatment for your pet. If your dog is stable as the majority of cases are, then we will likely note where the bite is (if it can be found) and prescribe several medications. The most common ones include antibiotics to prevent infection, anti-inflammatories, and pain medications. From there the treatment is changed on a case by case basis. If the reaction is severe oftentimes they will require hospitalization with supportive care of fluids, antibiotics, and pain control. If the reaction is mild, then the bite can be treated at home with frequent re-checks with your veterinarian to monitor the severity of the wounds and the swelling. The worst extent of the damage is often seen approximately 72 hours after the bite.

What About Antivenin?

There is an antivenin available for some bites, but it is very specific to the species of snake that bit the dog. It is sometimes offered in very severe cases, but has limited availability to a regular practitioner and is quite expensive. If this is considered for your pet we will discuss it with you in depth.

How Do I Prevent This?

The only way to completely prevent a snake bite is to try to take as many precautions as possible. Keep your pets away from wooded areas and ponds. Keep them on a leash rather than letting them go free so that you can pull them back if you do see a snake. There are also over the counter snake repellents sold as local stores which you can use in your yard to help deter them.


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