Snake Bites and Your Dog

Snake bites range from clinically insignificant to life threatening and even deadly.  Most snakes are not poisonous.  Even poisonous snakes do not inject venom every time they bite.  The trouble is there is no way for an owner to know if this is a “dry bite” or if the snake shot a full dose of venom into the dog.  For that reason, every snake bite should be treated as an emergency until a veterinarian examines the dog and determines otherwise.

The most common place for a bite is on the face or legs.  Dogs stick their nose down to sniff the snake and get struck on the top of the nose, or in the neck.  If dogs are running through a field hunting they often get struck on the legs as they step on or pass too close to a snake.

If your dog comes in, or refuses to come in, and his behavior is very different from normal, check for fang punctures.  The dog may want to hide, lay in the dark in a small space, and refuse treats or to do other activities the dog normally enjoys.  Fur may obscure fang marks, so look hard.  If the bite is on the face or neck, remove the collar immediately.  The dog’s neck and face will swell and the dog could choke if you leave the collar on.  If the bite is on the leg, removing the collar is still a good idea.

Call your veterinarian and advise him that you are on your way with a snake bit dog.  Do not try to use a suction kit to suck out the venom, a taser to shock it, or any other home remedy.  Your best first aid tool is your car keys.  If it is after hours for your veterinarian, take the dog to the nearest emergency clinic.

When you get to a veterinarian, the first thing they will do is check the punctures, make sure they see all of them, and shave around them.  After cleaning the wound, the veterinarian will examine the dog to determine what species of snake likely bit the dog.  This is important because the antivenin is different for different snakes.  Depending on the bite characteristics, the area where the dog was, and if the owner saw the snake, the veterinarian will choose which medication to use.

Antivenin is very expensive.  The veterinarian may decide to see if the dog received a dry bite or a light dose and can do without the antivenin.  If it is obvious the dog needs it, he may receive one or several units.  Dogs are also routinely put on steroids and antibiotics to help with inflammation and prevent secondary infections.  If your dog got a bite with venom in it, he will probably spend at least one night at the hospital.

Depending on the kind of snake, the dog may also need platelets.  One of the effects of some venom is to damage the platelets, leaving the dog vulnerable to bleeding to death.   Adding new platelets helps prevent this.  There are more doggy blood banks all the time, and veterinarians can usually find a donor dog to give a pint of blood if necessary.

All this is very traumatic and very expensive.  Despite your best efforts, you dog might die.  If you are located where there are a lot of poisonous snakes, try to locate a snake proofing clinic.  These are typically held just before bird hunting season.

Snake proofing pairs the sight, smell, and sound of a snake with a large shock, teaching the dog to avoid the snake at all costs.  It is not a pleasant process for dog or owner.  However, it can save a dog’s life.

When watching hunting tests or field tests, you can occasionally see a dog jump high in the air and over about ten feet from where he was.  When the marshal checks, he almost always finds a poisonous snake.  Snake proofing just saved that dog’s life.

Snake proofing needs to be done every year to remind the dog why he hates snakes and should avoid them.  There is usually a lower charge for the “booster” sessions because they take less time to do.

I had a dog get bit by a water moccasin.  Of course it was Sunday, so I had to go to the expensive emergency clinic.  Victoria’s neck and head swelled up and she looked like a Shar-pei, not a Pointer, for about a week.  It was very traumatic and very expensive.  She needed a unit of platelets, two units of antivenin, and prednisone and antibiotics.  She was very sick for about a week and it looked like I would lose her at first.

In subsequent years, I had her and my other dogs snake proofed.  I didn’t like doing it, but none of my dogs have been bitten again.  Even urban dwellers need to take precautions.  Dogs are curious creatures and they will get into things they shouldn’t on occasion.