Snake Bite Prevention and Treatment for Pets
Like many pet owners, you may want to enjoy the outdoors with your dog or cat. In many parts of the United States, venomous snakes can pose a serious and often forgotten threat to companion animals. Follow below to learn the basics of snake bites in veterinary medicine, and what you need to know to prepare and keep your pet safe.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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Are all snakes dangerous to our pets?
Similar to how different species of snakes affect humans differently, most snake species are not venomous or life-threateningly dangerous to our pets. However, among the thousands of snake species that exist, approximately 25 venomous snakes are found here in the U.S.
Your biggest risk depends on your location, and the snakes found specific to the local climate and environment. Only 3 states are venomous snake-free - Maine, Alaska, and Hawaii. If you find yourself living in any other part of the U.S., snake bites are a very real threat to your dog depending on your lifestyle and exposure.
The most well-known and commonly encountered venomous snakes include the copperhead, rattlesnake (pit viper), cottonmouth (water moccasin), and coral snake species. Although each one affects its victim slightly differently, each can be potentially life-threatening, and warrant immediate medical attention.
How do snake bites occur?
As natural predators, dogs and cats occasionally encounter snakes due to curiosity and intrigue. Inquisitive dogs often get snake bites on the face or mouth trying to pick up or bite them, as well as cats attempting to hunt outdoors. In these scenarios, the pet often has more than one bite if not deterred immediately and can be more severe than accidental encounters.
Otherwise, unassuming pets often present with snake bites due to no fault of their own, snakes can be very well camouflaged, and may strike when stepped on or near before the pet had a chance to even see it. These types of bites typically occur on the lower legs or feet, and the snake species may be difficult to identify if the dog has left the area where the bite occurred.
Areas with leaves, foliage, or thick fauna can be especially dangerous for hiking or exploring with a pet, where it simply isn’t possible to see them resting out of sight. Banks of ponds or lakes can also be common locations for cottonmouth snakes to reside.
In snake endemic regions, it’s useful to fence off or isolate a portion of the space your dogs or pets occupy and sweep it regularly for snakes. Checking for nooks, looking under outdoor items, and visually inspecting their yard or space can prevent a potentially dangerous encounter.
What symptoms can snake bites cause?
Depending on the species of snake, the number of bites, and the amount of venom injected, a variety of clinical signs may be present.
With nonvenomous snakes, usually a small amount of pain and swelling can be noted at the bite location. The punctures from the bites may be visible (two holes) but they may not be easy to find.
In venomous snakes, the symptoms are usually much more severe quite rapidly. Typically, severe swelling occurs quickly at the site of the bite, as well as bruising and blood-tinged discharge from the punctures. Systemic issues can arise, like a severe decrease in blood pressure, clotting problems, weakness, collapse, and paralysis. Pets are often agitated and panting after a snake bite envenomation as well as drooling and very painful. Depending on the species of snake involved, symptoms can rapidly progress to seizures, coma, or even death.
What do I do if my pet was bitten by a snake?
The most important thing to do if you suspect your dog or cat has been bitten by a venomous snake is to seek veterinary care as quickly as possible. This is not a time to drag your feet; minutes can be lifesaving in the case of pit vipers or coral snack envenomation. Identifying, or bringing photos of the involved snake can also be crucial to determining the next steps for treatment of your pet.
Severe cases often receive antivenin, and many cases warrant hospitalization and supportive care for at least 12 hours. Your veterinary team will help assess your pet for possible complications and prescribe appropriate therapy based on each case. Pets will likely receive pain management and sometimes are prescribed anti-inflammatories or antibiotics along with supportive care therapy.
How do I keep my pet safe?
Ultimately, there is no way to prevent snake bites from occurring entirely. However, checking your pet’s outdoor space daily and keeping them leashed when in outdoor environments can help keep them as safe as possible from encountering snakes accidentally.
Prepare when hiking by knowing the closest veterinary ER to your location, and always have a pet first aid kit on hand should this kind of emergency arise. Sticking to cleared paths when hiking and hiking during daylight hours can also reduce the risk of encountering a snake. It’s beneficial to learn the specific venomous snakes in your region, and what environments they favor so you can avoid them if possible. With luck, you can avoid this costly and dangerous threat to your family and pet.
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