Veterinary emergencies can take many different forms. A snakebite certainly isn’t the most common reason for owners to take their pet to get urgent medical care, but there are still around 150,000 visits to vets every year by owners who believe that their cat or dog has been bitten by a snake.
Although all snakes can bite, not all of them have deadly venom. Four species of venomous snake are indigenous to the United States. These are:
- Rattlesnakes/pit vipers
- Cottonmouth/water moccasins
- Coral snakes
If you are fortunate enough to see and be able to identify the snake that bit your pet, this can be extremely helpful. However, studies have shown that an estimated 99% of snake bites to dogs are the result of rattlesnakes, often referred to as pit vipers.
Your vet will be able to tell you whether anti-venom is necessary and getting the correct anti-venom into your pet promptly can help determine whether she survives and whether she experiences any lasting effects from her snakebite.
Is my pet at risk of a snake bite?
Snakebites can happen anywhere where there are snakes. However, most snakebites in the U.S. occur in the South West and the South East of the country. Snakebites are also far more common between the months of April and October when the temperatures are at their peak and humidity is high. Nevertheless, it is important to stay vigilant for snakes all year around.
What should I do if my pet is bitten by a snake?
If you see a snake bite your pet, or you suspect that she has been bitten, the first thing is not to panic. A calm, rational owner is far more helpful and reassuring to an already-distressed pet than a hysterical one. Swiftly determine if you can identify the offending snake while also restricting your pet’s activity. If her heart is beating fast, the venom will act much more quickly. By restricting her movement, such as by placing her in a crate or getting her to lie down, you can reduce the effect of the venom on her body. If you aren’t sure which variety of snake you are dealing with, take a picture if you can as this can be shown to your vet.
Take your pet to your emergency vet as quickly and as safely as you can. Make sure that you carry her if possible and do your best to keep her calm and happy. What happens next will determine whether your pet has been bitten by a snake that is venomous or non-venomous.
Treating a non-venomous snake bite
If the snake that bit your pet has been successfully identified as being non-venomous, your vet will take steps to clean and dress the wound. Your pet may also be prescribed antibiotics to prevent any infection, as well as anti-inflammatories and antihistamines.
Treating a venomous snake bite
If your vet has identified the snake that has bitten your pet as being venomous, the necessary anti-venom will be administered immediately. Then as with a non-venomous bite, the wound will be cleaned and dressed. Any further medications, treatments and care will be determined by whether there has been any physical damage sustained as a result of exposure to the venom. Your pet may need to stay in the care of your veterinarian for several days to ensure that she makes a full recovery. She may also need pain relief, antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and antihistamines to keep her stable.
Under no circumstances should you…
- Apply a tourniquet as this could cause tissue damage.
- Attempt to suck the venom out yourself.
- Give pain medication as these can interact with other drugs including anti-venom. Therefore, it is best to wait for your vet to give the necessary pain relief.
- Wait to see if your pet has a bad reaction. If you suspect a snake bite, get emergency veterinary attention immediately.