Spring and fall months mean snakes–and, in many areas, that means venomous snakes. Did you know that in the US about 90 percent of snakebites occur between April and October? Of course, those months are also the best times to be out and about with your dog–so it’s important to avoid snake bites–and know what to do if your dog is bitten by a snake.
Four types of venomous snakes are found in the US–rattlesnake, copperhead, cottonmouth or water moccasin, and coral snakes.
Since we live in an area where all four are found, we’re always on the lookout for snakes on every walk. In spite of our best efforts, though, our previous dog Yoda was once bitten by a coral snake. Part terrier, he was a dedicated snake and lizard hunter and, while in the front yard, found a coral snake before we did and was struck in the chest. Yoda received veterinary care, survived the bite, and went on to live many more years.
Today we’ve got some tips from the California Veterinary Medical Association, the largest state veterinary medical association in the United States, on how you can lessen the chances of your dog getting bitten…and improve your dog’s chance of survival should he be bitten by a snake.
Help your dog avoid snakes
- Avoiding snake habitat is the best way to prevent your dog from being bitten by a snake. [We especially avoid stone ledges and brush piles on our dog walks. Both are perfect snake habitat!]
- Keeping a dog leashed and under control at all times during walks and hikes may prevent perilous encounters with venomous snakes. [Our dogs remain on a four-foot leash on our walks, close enough that I can see what we’re coming up on!]
Snake bite on dogs — What to do if your dog is bitten
- Should your dog get bitten by a snake, walk − do not run − away from it.
- Do not attempt to kill the snake, but make a note of what it looks like, if possible. Veterinarians know of their local population of venomous snakes, and identification is not always essential.
- Immediately make your way to the nearest veterinarian.
- Do not give your dog any over-the-counter medications, and avoid ice, hot/cold packs, sprays, incisions, suctioning, and tourniquets. The signs and symptoms that develop often will guide your veterinarian to the appropriate therapy.
Where are Venomous Snakes Found?
It’s important to know the snakes in your area…and know which ones are venomous.
In the US, rattlesnakes are found across the country, while coral snakes are found primarily in Arizona, Texas, and Florida.
Copperheads and water moccasins are found in Eastern and Central U.S., and their bites are the most common due to their proclivity for living near humans, according to Dr. Karl Jandrey, assistant professor at the University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.
Should My Dog Get the Rattlesnake Vaccine for Dogs?
A while back we received a letter from a dog lover who was considering the rattlesnake vaccine for dogs:
I live about 20 minutes from the veterinarian’s office and about 40 minutes from the emergency vet’s office in a very rural area that has rattlesnakes. Would you recommend getting the rattlesnake vaccine for my dogs? My dogs are often indoors but have access to the fenced yard. Is the rattlesnake vaccine effective for any other kind of poisonous snake bites?
We turned to veterinarian Dr. Audrey Harvey for her advice:
“The rattlesnake vaccine has been available for many years, but there are no controlled studies proving that it is effective, and how long immunity to snake bites lasts. However, veterinarians who have treated dogs with snake bite have noted that the dogs have had milder symptoms, and recover quicker. It’s very subjective, because different dogs react to snake bites differently, and there is also a lot of variation in how much venom is injected with each bite.”
“There are risks associated with any vaccines, and with this vaccine, a small percentage of dogs will develop a sterile abscess at the injection site. There have also been very few incidences of itchy hives on the skin and anaphylactic reactions (severe allergic reactions), so keep that in mind too.”
“Ultimately it’s up to you whether you feel your dogs are at enough risk to warrant a vaccine. No vaccine is 100% effective. This vaccine won’t stop you dogs getting sick if they are bitten, but it may buy you a bit more time to get them to the vet. They will need an initial series of two vaccines, then yearly boosters.”
“According to the vaccine manufacturer, it offers protection against Western Diamond Rattlesnake, Western Rattlesnake, Sidewinder, Timber Rattlesnake, Massasauga and the Copperhead. It offers partial protection against the Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake. However, keep in mind my comment that there have been no scientific studies in dogs, so if your dogs are unlucky enough to be bitten, they still need immediate veterinary care.”
So talk to your veterinarian about your dog’s daily activities and travels to make your decision on the rattlesnake vaccine–and for ideas on how you can help avoid snake bites as you and your dog explore!
The purpose of this post is to educate. DogTipper shall have neither liability nor responsibility to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by this site. This column does not replace the importance of specific advice from your own veterinarian. If you have any concerns at all about your dog’s health, please make an appointment with your vet.