A simple walk outdoors can quickly turn unpleasant (to put it mildly) if your pet gets bitten by a snake. Each year over a million animal bite wounds are reported in the United States. But what to do when it’s your pet that’s been bit?
- If your pet is bitten by a snake, it is best to assume it is a venomous bite.
- Seek veterinary attention as soon as possible!
- If the swelling is not in the face, muzzle your pet (if you can do it safely) to avoid being bitten: snake bites are very painful and your pet may unintentionally snap at you; if the swelling is in the face, avoid touching this area all together.
- Immobilize the part of your pet that has been bitten by the snake, if this can be done safely; try to keep the area at or below the level of the heart.
- Keep your pet calm and immobile, carry if necessary
Mistakes that should not be made: What NOT to do.
- Do not try to suck out the venom!
- Do not attempt to “make an X” and cut open the area around the bite (you will only cause a wound).
- Do not bother to use a Snake Bite Kit or Extractor Pump (they will actually do more harm to your pet- and your wallet!).
- Do not apply ice to the area: this constricts the blood vessels locally and actually concentrates the venom causing severe muscle damage to the area.
- Do not rub any substances into the bite: the venom has entered the blood stream, and any substance applied topically is ineffectual.
- Do not apply a tourniquet: you will only succeed in causing further tissue damage and possibly create a need for limb amputation.
- Do not allow your pet to move about freely.
- Do not attempt to capture the snake for later identification (you could get bit too!).
A good tip for this last one is getting to know the poisonous snakes in the area: When in New Mexico… In New Mexico there are 8 species of venomous snakes and a lot of snakebites occur because people are uninformed about the venomous snakes that inhabit the state, and mistakenly think them harmless. The most common venomous snake in New Mexico is the rattlesnake, with several species inhabiting the state. The primary way to recognize a rattlesnake is the presence of a rattle on the tip of its tail, which usually rattles a warning. Since some nonpoisonous snakes behave like rattlesnakes when confronted another way to identify a rattlesnake is a conspicuous sensory area known as a pit on each side of the head (about midway between and slightly below the eye and nostril). Also they have triangular or spade-shaped heads (wide at the back and attached to a narrow neck). Since the rattlesnakes color can vary due to the environment best stick to these characteristics. In the southwest coral snakes can also be found. Although the ones found there are often too small to bite humans, their venom is still highly toxic. The coral snake is often confused with the New Mexico milk snake (which does not have toxic venom) because of similar banding patterns. A catchy rhyme to help you differentiate them is:
“Red touches yellow will kill a fellow (coral snake). Red touches black, venom lack (New Mexico milk snake).”
So if it slithers on the ground, it is best to leave it alone!
Take your pet to the vet! 95% of snake bitten pets do survive with early and proper treatment. All pets that have been bitten by a snake should be hospitalized for 12 to 24 hours since the onset of clinical signs can be delayed for several hours. The only proven treatment against envenomation is anti-venom, and the earlier it is administered, the more effective its action. Warning: it may be costly since each vial can range from $450 to $700 and your pet may need more than one vial. Many animals may do “fine” without it, but it does decrease the severity of clinical signs, as well as speed overall recovery with a reduction in complications. It is also recommended that blood work be done to monitor your pet’s platelet count as well as clotting times of the blood. For the best outcome also get IV fluid support, intensive pain management, antibiotics and wound monitoring. In severe cases blood and plasma transfusions may be needed.
Tips for Prevention:
Shockingly many cases of snakebite occur in dogs that are “just visiting” a part of the country where poisonous snakes are plentiful. It has happened that dog owners who reside in an area devoid of poisonous snakes are shocked into reality when visiting an area where venomous snakes reside! Still best keep these tips for prevention in mind whether your pet is new to the area or not:
- Stay on open paths while hiking with your pet.
- Keep your pets on leash away from high grass and rocky outcrops where snakes like to rest.
- Don’t let your pet explore holes or dig under rocks.
- Keep an open ear for that telltale rattling noise and keep your pet at your side until you determine where the sound is coming from, and then move slowly away.
- If you see a snake that sees you, remember that a snake can strike only a distance of half its body length; give the snake time to “just go away” as they are not looking to interact with you or your pet.
- Don’t let your pet examine a dead snake as they still can envenomate.
- For around your home: cut off the snakes food supply and shelter by mowing close to the house, storing firewood away from the house, plugging up holes in the ground, and limiting birdseed waste which can attract rodents to your home.