Approximately 150,000 dogs and cats are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the United States. Although we see snake bites year-round, most of these bites occur during the warm summer months. Living in a developing area with abundant wetland and wooded areas like St. Johns County means a higher risk of snake encounters. The families of venomous snakes that are cause for concern in our area include the Crotalidae family (these are the pit vipers such as rattlesnakes and water moccasins) and the Elapidae family (coral snakes). The majority of bites that we treat are from the pit viper family, and this article will focus on rattlesnake and water moccasin bites.
Snakes will bite when they feel threatened, therefore most bites we see are on the face (dogs) and on the paw (cats). The severity of the bite depends upon several factors. The most important variables are:
- The amount and concentration of the venom injected
- The location of the bite
- The size of the pet
- The rate of venom uptake
- The amount of time before treatment is started
Symptoms & Treatment of a Snake Bite
Initial signs and symptoms of a snake bite include:
- Rapid swelling
- The presence of small bleeding puncture marks from the fangs of the snake
Often (especially initially) the fang marks can be very difficult to see. Within 1-3 hours pets may also become depressed, developed a fever, vomit, have difficulty breathing, a low blood pressure, a rapid heart rate, develop bruising around the bite mark and have bleeding problems. Left untreated, the venom may lead to shock, internal bleeding, and death.
There is no definitive test to determine if an animal was bitten by a venomous snake or to measure how much venom was injected. Diagnosis is based on history of being in an area inhabited by snakes and the presence of the clinical signs described above.
Venomous snakebites are emergencies. If you suspect that a venomous snake has bitten your pet take them to a veterinary clinic immediately. Because not all hospitals carry antivenom, when driving to the clinic call to ensure they have keep antivenom stocked. At Palencia Pet Clinic we always have plenty of anti-venom available for our patients. If the snakebite occurs after hours, take your pet to a veterinary emergency clinic immediately. Aside from antivenom, treatment for a venomous snake bite may include administration of IV fluids and pain medications. The sooner treatment is initiated the better the prognosis.
How to Prevent a Snake Encounter
Some precautions you can take to help prevent your pet from encountering a venomous snake include:
- Clean up overgrown bushes and woodpiles where snakes like to hide.
- Keep rodents from inhabiting your home or property as these are a food source for venomous snakes.
- When walking, keep your dogs on leash and do not allow them in brush, tall weeds or grass. This way, if you encounter a snake, you can pull your dog away from the snake quickly.
- If you have encountered snakes in your yard before, check your yard before letting your pets outside.