Treating Snake Bite in Dogs

Treating Snake Bite in Dogs

Is your dog suffering from snakebite? Are you in an area with a lot of snakes?

Non-venomous snake bites are painful and can cause infection, but venomous snake bites can kill a dog within only an hour unless you give first aid for snakebite. Most of the time snakes do not want to confront any animal that is not prey. But if a dog is too curious to leave a snake alone, the dog might get bitten. This guide will give you advice on how you can keep your dog safe and provide timely first aid in case of a snake bite.

Riskiest areas for dogs

Dogs in apartments are the least at risk but if they live in houses with gardens in the city, they are a little more at risk. Dogs in houses in suburban and rural environments are the most at risk because several snakes are roaming around looking for food in gardens of small towns.

Snakes might regularly scavenge for rats near dumpsters where strays and even pets forage for food. This might lead to them crossing paths and the snake biting the dog as a defense mechanism. If you have a pet dog, ensure that they do not scavenge for food in such areas as they may not recognize a snake or the threat that it poses. It may be playfully running around the snake and even the smallest misstep can prove to be fatal.

Signs and symptoms of snake bite in dogs

The intensity of snake bite symptoms is dependent on a variety of factors, but the most common include:

  • Sudden weakness and collapse
  • Trembling, shaking, or twitching of muscles
  • Unsteadiness/weakness in hind legs
  • Bloody urine
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Paralysis
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Frothing at the mouth
  • A sudden and severe swelling at the bite location that typically hides the bite wounds

Symptoms of poisonous snake bite in dogs

  • Shaking and trembling
  • Fever and headache
  • Excessive salivation
  • Incontinence (lack of bladder control)
  • Limb weakness

The first symptoms of snake bite usually included agitation, panting, drooling, and weakness. A bite is not always easy to detect since many dogs are covered with fur unless the bite is on the face or neck. The first symptom on the site is massive swelling and it is easy to attribute the swelling to an insect. If you suspect a bite, check the site for bite marks with your palm going against the grain of hair so skin is visible. Most of the time a non-venomous snake bite looks like tiny horseshoe-shaped teeth marks since they do not have fangs.

Vomiting, diarrhea, seizures, etc. usually follow snake bite. Snake bite will sometimes cause the dog to collapse. Others will cause massive bleeding internally and through the body orifices etc. In some cases, the flesh will become discoloured in minutes as the venom breaks down tissue. This will be followed by shock, paralysis, coma, and death. Even if the bite isn’t life-threatening, it needs immediate medical care because it can cause irreversible damage internally.

What Does a Snake venom do?

If a venomous snake bites a dog, it immobilizes the animal and destroys its body tissues resulting in excessive body fluids getting lost into the tissue spaces. The severity of the venom depends on the size of the dog as well as where the dog has been bitten. Certain snake bites may lead to the pet looking disoriented or drugged. If you notice your dog has been bitten it is essential to get the dog to a vet hospital as soon as possible.

Types of venom:

Venom is of two types: neurotoxic (affecting the nervous system) or hemotoxic (affecting the blood and vessels). The venom of many snakes contains both neurotoxins and hemotoxins. 

Before getting to a vet

  • Do NOT try to bleed the snake bite and do NOT attempt to suck venom through a cut or a fang mark. Do NOT try to handle the snake.
  • If the bite is in an extremity such as a leg try putting on a tourniquet by tying it with a string snugly a couple of inches above the bite wound. There should be spaceyou’re your finger to pass under the tourniquet. If a string is not available use the sleeve of a shirt.
  • Make sure you have another person with you to handle the dog as you get to a vet.
  • If possible, have the description of the snake ready since a snake-specific anti-venom is the best option.
  • The poison will cause swelling and may cause nostrils or the windpipe to swell and get constricted. To prevent more injury, remove the collar or harness. If breathing stops, be prepared to give your dog mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
  • Keep your dog as immobile as possible by keeping it in a crate or having a person restrict the dog’s movements. Movement will speed up the spread of venom.
  • Turn up the AC in the car to the maximum. The cold will slow down circulation. You may also apply an ice pack directly to the wound. Ice or anything from the freezer kept in a plastic bag to prevent fluid melting on the dog is a good ice pack. Keep the ice pack on the wound until you reach the vet.
  • If you can see bite marks, rinse the wounds with water or wet-wipes to get the venom.

Snake bite emergency care

If you live in a place that has a lot of snakes in the area – it will be useful to have antivenin (antivenom) in your freezer at all times. (Include dog snake bite home treatment) (rinse the wound with water to remove the venom, identifying the snake, first aid  etc)

Treatment for snake bite in dogs

Once a vet has examined the dog they will:

  • Administer the appropriate antivenin that neutralizes the effects of the snake venom. Snake-specific antivenin is preferrable to generic antivenin. Using the right antivenin (aka antivenom) is the most helpful treatment for your pet as it keeps the venom from circulating in large quantities to other parts of the body.
  • An antivenom can be accompanied by the administration of other drugs such as Dexa (to prevent the dog from going into shock), IV, painkillers, and anti-inflammatories to reduce discomfort.
  • In some cases, the vet will recommend shaving the area where the pet is bitten. If there’s a vasculitis formed (inflammation of the blood vessels), the veterinary doctor can also make use of plasma to determine the treatment to be taken.
  • Even when initial symptoms subside the danger is not over. Over a 36-72 hour window, secondary symptoms will appear as the toxins get accumulated and damage internal organs including kidneys and liver, etc. causing acute kidney disease, liver disease, or multiple organ failure. The dog needs to be monitored for up to a week or more for all danger to subside.

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Prevention of snakebite and home treatment of snake bite in dogs

  • For the most part, snakes will share the habitat with you for food. Make sure there are no rats – the primary food source for snakes especially in urban areas. Rats will be where there is an open garbage or food source. Keep your surroundings clean.
  • Make sure that you clear the underbrush and any place that a snake can use as a hiding place.
  • Never leave your dog unsupervised even in your own yard.
  • While out walking, control your dog with a leash at all times. Do not allow your dog to explore holes in the ground or dig under logs or rocks. Stay on open paths. If your dog is curious about “something” hidden in the grass, back off immediately.
  • If you live in a snake-endemic region and a high-risk area, invest in a vacuum pump for snake bites and in antivenin (which must be kept refrigerated) and learn how to inject when required.

Snake aversion training for dogs

You can also train your dog to avoid snakes. By training your dog to understand simple commands like “put that down” or “don’t touch” or “leave it”, you can train it to stay away from something on command. This way, if you see your dog sniffing curiously at what looks like a snake, these commands will immediately help your dog move away from the danger zone.

Another idea is to reward your dog with activities that are more tempting than going near that pesky snake. By associating certain risk prone areas with a fun activity, you might be able to prevent your dog from going near a snake altogether.

Long-term health complications of snakebite to watch out for

While it depends on the level of venom, the extremity of the bite, and the type of snake, there can be health complications to watch out for that might come to bite later. In India, there are four major venomous snakes to watch out for – the Russell’s Viper, the Cobra and King Cobra, the Common Krait, and the Indian Saw-Scaled Viper. These are considered the big 4 snakes in India and most human and dog deaths come from them. The repercussions of these snake bites could result in paralysis, continued migraines, amputation of body parts, and kidney and blood flow disorders.

The information contained in VOSD Vet Advice™ is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical action which is provided by your vet. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. For any emergency situation related to a dog’s health, please visit the nearest veterinary clinic.

Do you find this information useful? For more medical, legal, and general information regarding dogs, visit the VOSD website.