Tuesday, May 25, 2010
By Linda Cole
It's not uncommon to run into snakes while out on the hiking trail or camping. Snakes also live in our backyards. Pets can cross paths with one, although most of the time the snake will do everything it can to avoid pets and humans. Once in awhile they bite, and immediate vet care is needed. Knowing what kind of snake bit your pet is important for the vet to know. What to do if a snake bites your pet is something every responsible pet owner should know, but you also need to know what not to do.
Garter snakes are common all over the country. At one time, it was thought they weren't venomous, but new information has found they do have a small amount of venom. It's always prudent to know what kind of snakes you may encounter in your backyard or when visiting other parts of the country with a pet. When taking your dog hiking, fishing, hunting or camping, be aware of what species of snakes you could run across. It's a good idea to have the phone number of a local vet too, just in case.
When we see a snake slithering through the grass or hear a telltale rattle, we turn around and walk away, but a curious pet is likely to check it out. A coiled up snake is not something you want to see in close proximity to you or your pet.
Most of the time, if a snake bites your pet, it's around the face or neck. A bite on the body is more serious. Snake venom attacks the nervous and cardiopulmonary systems of the body and affects how the blood clots. However, any snake bite to your pet is serious whether it's poisonous or not, and your first order of business is to get your pet to a vet immediately.
You'll see swelling around a snake bite and puncture wounds in the skin. Snake bites cause intense pain and swelling, but usually less if the bite comes from a non poisonous snake or if the venom wasn't injected into your pet. You need to be very cautious when touching the area because if the snake injected venom and it was poisonous, your pet may react in an aggressive manner because of the pain. It's best to avoid touching the area around the bite. If a venomous snake bites your pet, do not attempt to suck out the poison, bleed the wound, put ice on it or put a tourniquet on. That only wastes time and if you aren't sure what you're doing, you could be doing more harm than good. What you can do is keep the affected area below heart level while on your way to the vet.
If a snake bites your pet while you're walking in the woods or away from home, stay calm and keep your pet as quiet as possible. Walk, don't run, to your car. The faster you make him move, the faster the venom will spread through his system. Carrying your dog will help keep the venom from spreading as fast, but if you carry him out, be very careful not to touch the area around the bite. If your dog is bitten around the neck, take off his collar.
The seriousness of a bite is determined by how many times your pet was bitten, where he was bitten, the amount of venom in the snake, the time of year and how much your pet has moved. If he received a bite on a limb, you can immobilize it, but not so much it can't be used. Again, keep the wound below heart level.
If possible, try to identify the snake because your vet will need that information to properly treat your pet. Even if you think the snake is dead, don't pick it up. Dead snakes can still bite because of muscle contractions and it's a good idea to not let your pet inspect or play with a dead snake for that reason. Unless you are an expert snake handler, never try to catch or kill a snake that bit your pet. If you have no idea what kind of snake it is, try to remember what it looked like so you can describe it to the vet.
If a snake bites your pet, you will see small puncture wounds, bleeding, bruising, tissue damage and swelling with pain, which can be intense. Severe signs that may not begin to show up for several hours include: weakness, lethargy, shock, vomiting, nausea, slow or depressed breathing, muscle tremors or any neurological problems. Vet care will depend on how severe the bite is and what kind of snake bit your pet.
To read about snake aversion therapy for dogs, check out this article.
Read more articles by Linda Cole