Summer danger preparation: What to do if your pet is bit by a snake

Unfortunately, it doesn’t only get hot in the summer here in the Southwest, life can also be more dangerous for you and your pet. A major and sometimes lethal danger in the Southwest is your dog being bitten by a poisonous snake.

Rattlesnakes come out in Spring and are active until temperatures cool down in September/November. The spring seems to be a bad time for snake bites in dogs. Why? Snakes are coming out of hibernation and are hungry and cranky. Bites at this time of year can be worse as the snake is able to inject variable amounts of venom in their bites. They don’t appreciate dogs getting in their space and they let them know! They are usually not aggressive unless provoked, but a barking, snapping, or simply curious dog can really annoy them!

Because dogs do not necessarily have a natural fear of snakes, snake bites (called “Snake envenomation by veterinarians) is not an uncommon presenting problem at local Tucson veterinary clinics. I have treated over 50 in my career thus far. Dogs are most commonly bitten on the face and forelimb as they are trying to go after the snake with mouth or foot. An owner will usually see the puncture wounds from the snake which will be oozing blood.

Interestingly, not every bite results in poison going into the bloodstream of the dog, i.e, sometimes there is a “dry bite”. But you need to let the vet take a look because this can be a life or death situation.

Many clients are aware of their dogs getting bit as they see or hear the snake rattle when their dogs are bit. The two most common poisonous snakes we see in Tucson are the Western Diamondback and the Mojave. Both of these snakes deliver dangerous venom but the venom from the Mojave is more toxic.

It is imperative to get your pet to your veterinary clinic as soon as possible after they are bit. The treatment of choice is IV fluids, antibiotics and anti venom. The anti venom is crucial and must be given as close as possible to the time of the snake bite. The IV fluids help support the body and the antibiotics are needed to offset the bacteria that the snake injects with its fangs.

Most dogs recover well with this therapy protocol but must be monitored via bloodwork for signs of low platelets indicating bleeding problems. Some dogs may need more than one vial of the anti venom. The anti venom is very expensive because it is in short supply often. There are several local dog trainers who do snake avoidance training classes which seem to be very effective. One name is below.

As a side note while most of the snake envenomation cases are canine we do sometimes see cat cases. The cat’s are usually bitten on their forelimbs as they are batting at the snake. Our treatment protocol is very similar for cats.

We live in a wonderful place with amazing wildlife. But sometimes they bite back! Save the helpful information below in case your dog is bitten. Remember, if you have a walled yard, you need to also plug up the little holes in the wall because snakes are great at getting through even small areas. This could also keep your young children safer

Important numbers:

Tucson ER clinics:

Southern Arizona Veterinary Emergency Services – 888-3177
Veterinary Specialty Center of Tucson-795-0331

Animal Trainers:

Paul Blaushild-882-7577

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