Avoiding Snake Bites in Pets
Venomous snakes pose a deadly threat to pets in Texas. In the warmer months snakes become much more active so the risk of snake bites is much higher. 90% of snake bites occur between the months of April and October. It is important for pet owners to be careful to safeguard their dogs and cats from venomous snakes and to also know the signs of a snake bite in order to get the pet immediate veterinary treatment. Dogs are much more likely to be bitten by snakes than other animals however cats can be bitten as well.
The most common venomous snakes that cause threats to pets are crotalidae, which include rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cotton mouth/water moccasins — also referred to as pit vipers. Crotalidae have broad triangular heads with elliptical pupils. They have curved fangs and a deep “pit” between the eyes and the nostrils — hence the name pit viper. Experts estimate that pit vipers account for the majority of snakebites to dogs. The toxicity of the venom of a pit viper depends on the type, age and size of the snake; the amount of venom injected; and the age, size and health of the animal bitten. Pit viper venom contains toxic components, which produce local and systemic effects. These effects may include local tissue and blood vessel damage, hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells), bleeding or clotting disorders, lung, heart, kidney, or neurologic damage, shock, hypotension (low blood pressure), and death. Pets are most often bitten on the face our mouth, but hey can also be bitten on the legs or other areas.
Signs of rattlesnake bites in pets:
- Sudden yelp of pain, or intense pain
- Rapid swelling on the legs or face
- Fang/puncture marks with oozing blood at puncture site
- Rapid breathing
- Dilated pupils
- Pale gums
- Twitching muscles
- Blood in urine
Coral snakes, part of the Elapidae family, are also a venomous snake that poses a risk to pets. Coral snakes have very distinct red, yellow, and black color patterns (“red on yellow, kill a fellow”). They have short fangs and “chew” venom into their victims. The venom is neurotoxic and paralyzes the respiratory system. Bites from coral snakes are not as common as pit vipers due to their small heads, however their venom is very dangerous and bites can be fatal.
Signs of coral snake bites in pets:
- Difficulty breathing
What to do if your pet is bit by a venomous snake
If you think your pet has been bitten by a snake you should keep them calm and quiet and take them to a veterinarian immediately. The chances of recovery are much greater if your pet is treated early. Pets left untreated have a much lower survival rate. It is important to always have both your regular veterinarian’s phone number as well as the closest after-hours emergency veterinarian’s phone number. Treatment is designed to limit the circulating venom load and to treat the symptoms and pain of the bite. Antivenom may be needed depending on the kind of snake. Antivenom binds the venom to reduce its effects. It works best if given as soon as possible. Some pets may require multiple vials of antivenom. Intravenous fluid administration is used to treat shock and support the circulatory system. Pain medications as needed, as well as antibiotics to prevent infection. Other medications may be needed depending on the particular circumstances. Even with all of the appropriate treatment venomous snake bites can still be deadly, however treatment increases survival chances.
Important DO NOTS
- DO NOT cut the bite open and try to suck out the venom!
- DO NOT apply a tourniquet!
- DO NOT apply ice or anything else to the bite wounds
- DO NOT wait to have your pet examined by a veterinarian! Seek treatment Immediately!
Avoiding Snake Bites in Pets
The best way to avoid snakebites in pets is to avoid the areas where pets are most likely to come in contact with snakes. Snakes are most active during warm temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Snakes prefer areas where grass is high or there are bushes or wood piles to hide in. Water Moccasins prefer water or marshy areas. Keep your yard from being a good snake hideout by keeping grass short, bushes trimmed, and keeping wood piles away from the yard. When you take your dog outside in a high risk area keep them on a leash. There is a rattlesnake vaccine for high risk dogs available at veterinary hospitals however the vaccine does not eliminate the need for immediate treatment by a veterinarian if a dog is bitten by a snake. The rattlesnake vaccine is intended to create antibodies against the rattlesnake venom to help reduce the damage done by the venom. The vaccine does not work against all types of venom and the vaccine itself does have some chance of allergic reaction. Before administering the vaccine to your dog it is important to have a conversation with your veterinarian about the benefits and risks of the vaccine for your dog. Regardless, all pets bitten by a snake require immediate treatment by a veterinarian.
Take home message about venomous snake bites in pets
- Educate yourself about the presence of venomous snakes in the vicinity
- In yards keep grass short, bushes trimmed, and keep wood piles away
- Avoid areas where snake infestation is likely
- Leash your dogs when hiking
- Keep your regular veterinarian and emergency veterinarian phone numbers on hand
- Take pets to a veterinarian immediately if bitten