Treating Snakebite 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 a 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.

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. There are several snakes roaming around looking for food in gardens of small towns.

Identifying a snakebite

The first symptoms of snakebite 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 mistake the swelling having been caused by 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 snakebite looks like tiny horseshoe-shaped teeth marks since they do not have fangs. 

Types of venom

The severity of the situation depends on the size of the dog in relation to the snake, the number of bites, and how much venom is injected. 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.  

Other symptoms

Vomiting, diarrhoea, seizures etc. usually follow snakebite. Snakebite 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 discolour 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. 

Before getting to a vet

  1. Do NOT try to bleed the snakebite and do NOT attempt to suck venom through a cut or a fang mark. Do NOT try to handle the snake. 
  2. If the bite is on 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 such that a finger will pass under the tourniquet. If a string is not available use the sleeve of a shirt 
  3. Make sure you have another person with you to handle the dog as you get to a vet. 
  4. Have the description of the snake ready if possible since a snake specific anti-venom is the best option.
  5. The poison will cause swelling and may cause nostrils or windpipe to swell shut. To prevent more injury remove the collar or harness. If breathing stops be prepared to give your dog mouth to mouth resuscitation. 
  6. Keep your dog as immobile by keeping in a crate or having a person restrict the dog’s movements because all movement will speed up the spread of venom. 
  7. 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 till you reach the vet. 
  8. If you can see bite marks, rinse the wounds with water or a wet wipes to get the venom. 

Treatment for snakebite

Once a vet has examined the dog they will:

  1. Administer the appropriate antivenin that neutralizes the effects of the snake venom. Snake-specific antivenin is preferred to generic antivenin. 
  2. This may be accompanied by administration of other drugs such as Dexa to prevent the dog from going into shock, IV, painkillers, and anti-inflammatories to reduce discomfort.
  3. 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. 

Prevention of snakebite

  1. For the most part, snakes will share the habitat with you for food. Make sure there are no rats which are the number one food source for snakes. Rats will be where there is open human garbage or food source. Keep the surroundings clean.
  2. Make sure that you clear the underbrush and any place that a snake can use as a hiding place. 
  3. Never leave your dog unsupervised even in your own yard. 
  4. 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.
  5. 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. 

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.