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Postcards June 2017 - Snakebites

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

We all hope our pets don’t endure a snakebite, but unfortunately they are a real problem for many pets and owners. There are a variety of venomous snakes that can harm pets if bitten, so it helps to be able to recognize the dangerous snakes and to know what to do if your pet is bitten. Several websites, such as and Texas Parks and Wildlife, are available to help you recognize our local venomous snakes. Texas pit vipers, rattlesnakes and copperheads are most often responsible for dangerous bites.

Snakes are coldblooded and are most active during periods of warm temps, usually around 80 degrees F. Most venomous snakes are found in tall grasses, bushes and woodpiles, except water moccasins, which prefer close proximity to water. When outside, it is best to keep your pet on a leash and away from such places. Keep your yard from becoming a good snake hideout as well by keeping your grass short and shrubs trimmed. This is the best way to help you and your pet avoid snakebites.

There is a rattlesnake vaccine available for dogs; however, limited evidence documents how much protection it actually provides. Discuss your options with your veterinarian. Snake aversion training programs help teach dogs to avoid these predators. Health insurance for your pet might also be a good consideration if you live in or travel in high risk areas. Insurance can help offset the cost of antivenom treatments and associated tests which can be quite expensive if needed.

Most pets are bitten on the face or mouth, sometimes legs and feet. Puncture bites can sometimes be hard to see. Signs and severity of bites depends on amount of venom that may have been introduced, as well as location of the bite and size of the pet. The size of the snake and time of year are not accurate predictors of how much venom may have been introduced unfortunately. A venomous snake may or may not inject venom with every bite. When venom is not injected it is known as a “dry bite”. Venomous bite signs typically are rapidly progressive swelling, bruising, pain, and a small amount of blood or black discharge from the bite. Swelling may be severe and cause breathing issues if close to the airway. Some animals can progress to cardiovascular shock, which decreases the blood pressure, pale gums, rapid heartbeat, difficulty breathing, collapse and/or vomiting and diarrhea. Some neurologic signs can present as well such as tremors, weakness or even seizures. Following the bite, it is not uncommon for the skin at the site of the bite to become black and necrotic and fall away, with secondary wounds.

If you pet is unfortunate and experiences a snake bite, call ahead to your veterinarian and let them know what has happened if possible. If you have seen the snake or the attack, any information regarding the description will be helpful regarding the treatment. Your veterinarian will advise you on the best tests and treatment based on the condition when you arrive with your pet. Do not administer any medication prior to contacting your vet. Do not apply a tourniquet of any form, lance the skin, or suction the venom from the wound. Use caution when handling your pet. The painful bite may cause your pet to bite you if handled.  Identify the snake if possible. The animal should be kept quiet and the bitten area immobilized if possible to decrease the spread of the venom. Pit viper antivenom is the only treatment that can neutralize venom in your pet’s body. Other treatments can be used for supportive care as well for shock and pain. Antivenom should be given as soon as possible if going to be used.

Unfortunately this beautiful time of year is when veterinarians begin to see and hear about dogs and cats coming into contact with snakes. Please be wary and take measures as soon as possible.

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