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208 Breeds, 422 Health Conditions  |  Find a Vet

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Snake Bites View In Cats

First Aid Condition

First aid health condition




Condition Overview

Snake bites are common in pets, especially dogs, because dogs are often curious and try to play with moving critters. In fact, about 15,000 dogs and cats are bitten by poisonous snakes each year in the United States alone.


Most pets are bitten on or near the face and neck when trying to catch snakes, but bites to the body are typically more dangerous. The severity of the bite depends on the size of the snake compared to the size of the pet, the number of bites, and the amount of venom that has been injected.

Some types of venom attack the central nervous system, in which case the pet may act drunk, have seizures, or suddenly stop breathing. The most common snakebite sign when venom has been injected is sudden, severe swelling that often hides any fang marks, so the wound looks like an insect sting or spider bite.


The venom from pit vipers like copperheads actually digests the flesh, so the area around the bite becomes discolored within minutes. It can also cause bleeding disorders (bruising or bloody nose) that look like rat poisoning. Quick medical attention is important because even if the bite isn't life-threatening, irreversible damage from the venom begins immediately.


Since it is often difficult to distinguish the harmful venomous bites from the non-venomous, rush your pet to the vet if you think that she has been bitten.


First aid can be used to help stabilize your pet while you are on your way to the veterinarian.

  1. Check for signs of shock - Any poisonous snakebite can cause shock, which may lead to stopped breathing. Coral snake venom and some rattlesnake venom can paralyze the respiratory system. Bites to the face can cause the nostrils or windpipe to swell and make it hard to breathe. Be prepared to perform artificial respiration if your pet stops breathing.

    Artificial respiration - Wrap your hand around your pet's muzzle to seal her lips and blow into her nose with 2 quick breaths, watching to see her chest rise. Give 15 - 20 breaths per minute until she starts to breathe again on her own or you reach medical help.
  2. Keep your pet still - Keep you pet as calm as possible and do not let her move at all. Get her to the vet by transporting her in a pet carrier or restrained on a board or cot. Movement speeds up the blood circulation, causing the poison to travel more quickly.
  3. Take off her collar - Remove your pet's collar or harness so that it doesn't constrict the body as the bite swells the tissue.
  4. Turn on the air conditioning in the car - This can help slow down the blood circulation.
  5. Rinse the wound - If the bite is visible, don't cut the wound, which increases the blood supply to the area and actually makes the situation worse. Instead, rinse the surface off quickly with water to wash away any surface venom. Do this in the car while another person drives you to the vet's office.
  6. Vacuum the venom - Vacuum pump devices that come with commercial snakebite kits have been shown to remove up to 30% of venom without an incision when used within 3 minutes of the bite. If someone is going with you and you have a pump, you can do this on the way to the vet.
  7. Put a cold pack on the bite - Ice will not only reduce the pain and help bring down the swelling, it will also slow the blood circulation and can help prevent the poison from spreading. Many times, the bite is too painful for your pet to tolerate a hard chunk of ice, so use a package of frozen peas or corn wrapped in a cold wet washcloth. If you can have someone go with you to the clinic so that one person can apply the cold treatment while the other drives. Apply the cold pack for 10 - 30 minutes at a time.
  8. Keep the bite below the level of the heart - Lower the bitten area so that its not as easy for circulation to spread the venom throughout the rest of the body.
  9. Bandage the limb - If veterinary help is more than 1 hour away and the bite is on a leg or the tail, apply a snug bandage between the bite and the heart. Wrap a small towel around the limb, then cover it with an elastic bandage like an Ace bandage. This will be more effective and safer than a tourniquet (rope or string tie) in slowing the spread of the poison.
Antivenin treatment - Antivenin is made from antibodies created by a horse's body that had been exposed to venom, and it is designed to neutralize the effects of the poison. It is most effective when given within 4 - 8 hours of the bite, but in severe cases, it may still be helpful up to 24 hours later. It is typically injected into the tissue around the fang marks as well as given intravenously. Most veterinary clinics don't have antivenin on hand though, because it is quite expensive and can be hard to find. Human hospitals located in high snake population areas often keep supplies. Your veterinarian may be able to supply you with an emergency dose if you have hunting dogs or other pets that are at potential risk during an outing or camping trip.


Try to get a good look at the snake that bit your pet so that you can describe it, but don't risk trying to capture or kill it. The pit vipers include rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins. These snakes have triangular heads, and they strike and retreat, using long, hollow, hinged fangs to inject venom when they bite. Their venom is toxic to blood cells and tissue and typically kills the skin and muscle that surround the bite. You will see discolored flesh and terrible swelling at the site of the bite.

Coral snakes have short fangs that are not hinged, so instead of injecting their venom, these snakes tend to hang on and chew the venom into the victim. Their venom is a neurotoxin that paralyzes the respiratory system, so the victim suffocates. There may not be much swelling, and the bite will look like 2 small cuts. Signs may not appear for up to 7 hours.

Snake descriptions:

  • Rattlesnake - A rattlesnake is usually a clearly patterned, brown or reddish snake, but its most distinctive trait is the rattle on the end of its tail. It gets larger as the snake gets older. A rattler will warn you of it's presence by shaking the rattle, but only if it senses you coming. More Rattlesnake info.
  • Water Moccasin - You may encounter a water mocsassin in a swamp or near a stream. These pit vipers are 4 - 6 feet long and dark brown to black. When one opens its mouth, the white interior makes a striking contrast to its dark coloring and gives the snake its alias: cottonmouth. More Water Moccasin info.
  • Copperhead - The copperhead is one of the most beautiful venomous snakes, with red-brown coloring and hourglass markings. Copperheads are usually between 2.5 and 4 feet long. Since it blends in so well, be especially careful around wood piles and leaf litter, two of it's favorite hiding places. More Copperhead info.
  • Coral Snake - You can tell a venomous coral snake from its harmless look alike, the king snake, by the way the colors are lined up. In coral snakes, the yellow bands are next to the red bands, which in king snakes, the black bands are beside the red. Just remember this rhyme " Red next to yellow kills a fellow". More Coral snake info
If you live in an area where you dog is likely to come into contact with poisonous snakes, you may consider taking him through sensitization training. A skilled professional will use techniques to train your dog to fear and avoid snakes.


Most pets who die from a snake bite succumb to the venom within 1 - 2 hours of the encounter, and pets who survive beyond that point usually recover. Unfortunately, they won't be out of the woods for up to 10 days after the bite. Any snakebite, whether poisonous or not, needs antibiotics to fight possible infection from bacteria that are found in snakes mouths. Usually, the veterinarian will give tetanus and antibiotic injections. you may also need to give oral antibiotics or anti-inflammatory medication like steroids (possibly for several weeks) to help protect against tissue damage until the sore has healed.

If your pet's wounds are tender, check with your veterinarian about pain medications. You can also ease the pain with cold compresses 2 - 3 times a day.

Water Therapy - Many kinds of venom eat away the flesh at the site of a snakebite, and about 4 - 5 days after the bite, tissue starts to rot away. These wounds are slow to heal and can spread without the correct follow-up treatment.

Water therapy is the best way to speed healing, and it will also keep the area clean. Use a high pressure stream of water from a hand help sink sprayer or shower head to flood the wound from 5 - 10 minutes 2 - 3 times each day.

Show Sources & Contributors +


The First Aid Companion for Dogs And Cats

Publisher: Rodale Inc, 2001

Website: http://www.rodalebooks.com/

Authors: Amy D. Shojai, Shane Bateman DVM

Dog Owners Home Veterinary Handbook

Publisher: Wiley Publishing, 2007

Website: http://www.wiley.com/WileyCDA/

Authors: Debra M. Eldredge, Liisa D. Carlson, Delbert G. Carlson, James M. Giffen MD

2 Comments For "Snake Bites"



My Dog was bitten by snake 5 days and we gave our best possible health care available in my town, treatment included ( Atntivenin, antibiotics( still on) IV fluids ( still on)) and he seem to be responding well to the treatment, I am little worried as he has not eaten for the last 5 days , he does drink water ocassionallly but not much, what else can I do so that he starts eating or help him recover,, our vet is an expert but he too is surprised with him for not eating for 5 days ,, any help comments welcome

September 28, 2011 at 6:31AM  Sign In or Join to Comment



Yes, my dog was bitten 5 days ago and he's not eatting either.

May 9, 2012 at 4:20PM  Sign In or Join to Comment