Snake Bites on Dogs : What to Know & What to Do
There are more than 3,600 species of snakes around the world. About 10 percent of them are venomous. In the US, there are about 50 snake species, twenty of which are poisonous. From rattlesnakes to copperheads and coral snakes, there is a chance that your dog can get bitten. Snake bites on dogs is a real concern for many pet parents. Knowing what these snakes are and what to do can help save your pet.
Dangers of Snake Bites in Dogs
Man has yet to study the long-term effects of snake bites on dogs. Many of the snake bite incidents involving man’s best friend are underreported or never reported at all. In many cases, the owner did not know that his or her pet was bitten by a venomous snake. Pet owners also do not subject their dogs to autopsy to determine the cause of death.
While we do not know the long-term effects of snake bites in dogs, we do know what can happen to them in the event that a venomous snake strikes.
The real danger in a snake bite is not in the wound. It is in the injection of toxins that can reach the dog’s bloodstream. Since blood circulates throughout the dog’s body, these toxins also have the chance to reach body organs other than those at the puncture site. It is best to understand the types of toxins that venomous snakes can inject into a dog’s system.
- Cytotoxins – These target the individual cells of the organism. It leads to cell death and tissue destruction. The cells of the brain, heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys can all be affected. This can lead to massive organ failure.
- Hemotoxins – This type of toxins destroys the red blood cells, which can cause anemia. They can also destroy clotting factors. This can lead to massive bleeding. In turn, this can result in hemorrhagic shock and a lowering of the dog’s blood pressure. If not managed immediately, the dog may die because of multiorgan system failure.
- Myotoxins – These target the muscles of the dog. They produce muscle tissue necrosis, which can lead to loss of muscle strength. The dog becomes weak, almost paralyzed. The damaged muscle tissues release myoglobin into the blood. This clogs up the kidneys, resulting in renal failure.
- Neurotoxins – This toxin type targets the cells of the nervous system. It can lead to weakness, increased sensitivity, and paralysis. If the muscles of the lungs get affected, the dog may not be able to breathe and die.
There are also snakes that spit their venom into the eyes of dogs. This can bring about intense pain and weakness of the muscles of the eyes. In some cases, it can also lead to blindness.
Manifestations of Snake Bites in Pet Dogs
Nonvenomous snakes can still produce a host of symptoms in the dog. You may notice bruising or swelling in and around the puncture wound. There can also be bleeding. The resulting tissue destruction at the site of the injury can also produce very intense pain. The open nature of the bite wound also exposes the dog to secondary infections.
Venomous snakes, on the other hand, can produce a variety of symptoms. These depend on the type of toxin injected into the dog’s body. It can include the following manifestations:
- Tremors and excessive shaking
- Very fast yet shallow breathing
- Excessive salivation
- Inability to control both urination and defecation
- Blood in the urine
- Discoloration on the site of the bite wound
- Dilated pupils
- Forceful muscle contractions
- Weakness of the limbs
- Loss of control of body movements
We do not know the long-term effects of snake bites in dogs. What we know is that venomous snakes can kill.
Venomous Snakes that All Dog Owners Should Be Familiar With
As mentioned, there are about 20 snake species in the US that are venomous. They include 2 coral snakes, a copperhead, a cottonmouth, and 16 species of rattlesnakes. The following venomous snakes should make a good representation of these 20 species of venomous snakes that pet owners should be familiar with.
The Copperhead thrives in the northern regions of Florida all the way to Massachusetts. They are also found in southeastern Nebraska and Texas. The average length of an adult Copperhead is about 22 to 36 inches, although there have been reports of snakes reaching up to 53 inches. Copperheads are venomous. However, they do not always lead to deaths. The majority of Copperhead snake bites in dogs result in extreme pain and destruction of the bone and muscle tissues.
An adult Cottonmouth snake can grow anywhere between 20 and 48 inches. There have also been reports of Water Moccasin snakes reaching at least 70 inches long. These are native to Florida. They can also be found in Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, and Missouri. Cottonmouth snakes produce cytotoxic venom. This destroys tissues. While deaths are not common, it can still lead to severe tissue damage. Amputation may be necessary in cases where the dog’s legs are bitten.
- Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
The Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake can grow up to 8 feet long. On the average, however, they grow only to about 3 to 6 feet long. Like the Water Moccasins, this rattlesnake species makes Florida its home. People in southeast North Carolina, south Mississippi, and certain parts of Louisiana can also expect to see this species of venomous snake. Not only is the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake one of the largest pit vipers in the US, it is also the most dangerous. Its venom can destroy red blood cells. It can also reduce platelet count. This can lead to heart failure and respiratory paralysis.
- Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake
This species of rattlesnake is small. It only measures about a foot to 2 feet. It is present in Florida and the eastern portion of North Carolina. They are also found in some parts of Texas and Missouri. These snakes produce venom that contains disintegrins. These are proteins that can have an effect on the blood’s ability to form clots. The dog can suffer massive bleeding in the process.
- Eastern Coral Snake
An adult Coral Snake can grow from 20 to 30 inches. It is not unusual to see some 40-inch species, however. They thrive in Florida and eastern Texas. They are also present in some regions of North Carolina and the northeastern section of Mexico. These snakes have one of the most potent venoms in the world. Their venom contains neurotoxins that can paralyze the muscles of respiration. The good news is that the snake will only bite as a last resort. It will try to evade its enemy as much as possible.
What You Should Do in Case Your Dog Got Bitten by a Snake
If you are not sure what type of snake bit your dog, it is best to bring it to an emergency veterinary facility. Veterinarians will often try to assess the bite wound and compare it with their snake bite database. If they think that your dog was bitten by a venomous snake, then they will administer an antivenin.
Keep in mind that antivenin works best within the first 6 hours after the snakebite. Within this time frame, the toxins from the venom have not yet circulated throughout the body. Neutralizing it is a lot easier. Hence, it is critical to never delay in bringing your pet to the vet. Skip the home remedies that online resources may have taught you. You can never be too sure of the kind of snake that your dog came in contact with.
It would help if you were able to identify the species of snake that bit your dog. This aids in the administration of a more specific antivenin. It is best if you can also bring the dead snake to the veterinary clinic. They can examine it further and help in the treatment of your pet.
On your way to the clinic, remove the harness or collar on your dog. This will help facilitate breathing in case there is swelling in its airways. Keep your dog as calm as possible. Have someone to soothe your dog at the back of the car while you drive. Apply cold compress over the bite wound. This will help slow down blood circulation by constricting the blood vessels.
In cases where the snake that bit your dog is not poisonous, the vet will clean the bite wound very thoroughly. He will also give your dog anti-inflammatory and painkilling medications. As a precaution, the vet will prescribe antibiotics to help prevent secondary infections. In some cases, vets may also prescribe antihistamines or corticosteroids to help in the management of swelling. The dog often recovers within a few days.
Venomous snake bite injuries require extensive hospitalization. Vets will administer anticonvulsants, anti-inflammatory medications, analgesics, and antibiotics. They may also administer oxygen support and intravenous fluid therapy. Recovery will take several weeks.
Snake bites in dogs are real issues that many pet owners face every day. Knowing the venomous species of snakes can help you decide on the most appropriate action to take.