It’s not very uncommon, our dogs betting bit by bees, wasps, ants, and snakes. Our dogs go with us everywhere! They are exposed to the world around them and they are insanely curious about it! Dogs, especially puppies, play with just about anything moving or not. A bite or two will generally ease this appetite for chasing bees and wasps. However, dogs, even fully grown ones, will stick their nose just about anywhere to figure out what’s going on in their surroundings. As such, snake bites can be a very serious problem among dogs that spend any amount of time outdoors and especially in the bush. Dogs generally don’t back down in a dog versus snake encounter, which leads our furry little friends to have to deal with the pain, inconvenience, and seriousness of a snake bite.
When our pets are injured we tend to panic. What can we do? Our pets can’t communicate their feelings or what they are experiencing. We can only take cues from their behavior and appearance. As such, getting immediately veterinary assistance after a snake bite is crucial. There are also a number of things you should and should not do in the meantime.
First, try and identify the snake, as with a spider bite there are a number of factors that affect the seriousness of the bite. One of these factors is the size, age, type of snake, and how much venom was injected. 20-25% of bites are dry, 30% of bites are mild in severity, 40% are severe, 5% are fatal. What you shouldn’t do is try to catch it or kill it, however, try and take mental notes on the details of the snake. How big is it? What type is it? If you don’t know the type or can’t tell, take mental notes on what it looks like. What color is it? Does it have a diamond head? Did it have a rattler? Where did you encounter the snake? (In a desert, mountains, near grass, in a hole, etc…) This can help to identify the snake. You’ll also need to give the veterinarian information about your dog, for example his age, health status, weight, etc, will help as these element affect the toxicity of the venom as well.
Never try to suck the venom out of the wound, and never make an incision on the bite or on the skin around the bite. This is true for both humans and pets, and incisions can cause additional harm to both pets and humans.
Most snake bites occur on the face or extremities (Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, 2004), so look there for fang marks from the bite. Be careful when doing so as the area will be sensitive. Be sure to look at all four legs, the head, and neck, if nothing is there check the body. There may be more than one bite, so make sure you do a thorough check. Even if the bite is dry (no venom injected), there will still be swelling and localized pain. You won’t be able to tell if there was venom injected unless you seek veterinary care, so care is needed no matter what. It’s also important to note that facial bites are more lethal than those on the extremities as swelling can impair the ability of the dog to breathe. (Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, 2004).
As with human snake bites on the extremities, wrapping a bandage several inches above the bite area can help to slow the venom. Do not wrap the bandage so tight that it cuts off circulation, the goal of the bandage is purely to slow the venom’s movement, a tourniquet will only serve to cut off circulation and possibly cause your pet to lose his leg. Lastly, try to keep your dog still or quiet if possible. If you can immobilize your pet and keep the bite area lower than the heart, do so; this is an important step in preventing the venom from spreading too quickly. (American Red Cross, 2007).
A rattlesnake’s venom generally causes a great deal of swelling and hours after the bite occurs 1/3 of blood circulation is lost to the swollen tissue. (Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, 2004). This can cause blood clotting problems which lead to uncontrolled bleeding, shock due to blood loss, and possibly death if left untreated. Several California breeds of rattlesnakes, inject a neurotoxin as opposed to the hemotoxin previously mentioned. Neurotoxins affect the central nervous system and can cause paralysis including respiratory paralysis that induces suffocation. (Mar Vista Animal Medical Center, 2004). Symptoms include pain, swelling, bleeding, bruising and tissue necrosis (the breakdown and death of tissue) (Foster, Smith, 2007).
Upon admission to a vet your veterinarian will clean and care for the bites. Be sure to ask about after care suggestions and for vaccines that might be available. There is a vaccine that is administered in two to three doses given 3-6 weeks apart with a booster annually. These vaccines provide a form of protection for dogs and is advisable for dogs that spend a fair deal of time outside and especially in bush areas where snakes are in no small supply. Talk to your veterinarian for details and advise on what would be best for your pet.
Be careful when taking your pet outside and into the bush. Try and keep your pet away from holes and cliffs where snakes typically lurk and lay in rest. Keep an eye on your surroundings and the surroundings of your pet. Your vigilance can save you and your pet a great deal of pain and trouble.