Watch Tip: Venomous Snakes

Posted on March 12th, 2011 by Anna Nirva

Watch Tip LogoWatch Tip for week of March 13:

Keep pets away from snakes in spring, summer, and fall. Be very watchful! In southern regions, snakes are waking from hibernation and leaving their dens. Dogs and cats may be curious or playful when encountering snakes; they might be bitten. Rattlesnakes, cottonmouths (water moccasins), copperheads, and coral snakes are venomous. If bitten, your pet needs emergency veterinary care to live.

Consider snake avoidance training for your dog

If venomous snakes are common in your area, you have a responsibility to keep your dogs and cats safe from snake bites. Consider enrolling your dog in snake avoidance training if you live in a region where snakes are common. Trainers typically use shock collars and live, muzzled or defanged snakes to train dogs to associate the smell, sound, and sight of snakes with an electric shock. This might sound harsh but it undoubtably saves animal lives. Or keep your cats and dogs indoors. Get professional help to remove any venomous snake dens near your home.

Curious dogs and cats are often bitten in the face or neck as they investigate the strong smell and slithery movement of snakes. A snake bite requires urgent veterinary treatment; using the correct antivenin is key to saving the life of your pet. You must quickly identify the snake to treat the bite most effectively. Take a quick photo of it with your phone. If you have killed it, be extremely careful not to pick it up because reflexes can still cause bites for up to an hour!

Learn to identify the venomous snakes in your area by sight before an emergency occurs. Keep a snake ID guide with you if that helps. Don’t attempt to kill or injure non-venomous snakes unless you have an infestation. Bites from all animals will cause infection; don’t provoke bites by attempting to kill a snake that is not dangerous to people or pets.

If your roaming dog or cat returns home with a bite mark in the face, neck, or front leg area, take immediate action. Is your dog having difficulty breathing? Is there pain, swelling, discoloration, trembling, lethargy, or drooling? Race immediately to your veterinarian; every minute counts! Enlist a companion to go along to call the vet during the trip, in case you are given instructions for care such as applying pressure above the bite.

    One Response to “Watch Tip: Venomous Snakes”

    1. Jerry Dunham says:

      One problem with pit vipers is the unpredictability of their venom.

      When a pit viper latches onto lunch, he doesn’t dump all of his venom into what is likely a small rodent or baby rabbit.  They only inject what’s needed for the job, so there is a control mechanism that keeps them from wasting it.

      By contrast, when a human or large dog approaches, the snake is aware that he’s not dealing with lunch, but a threat.  The result is something akin to panic in humans.  When a pit viper bites a human the control mechanism is completely out of control, and the amount of venom is quite random.  You might get the full load, you might get a partial, or you might get nothing at all.  This is the reason for so many “old wives tales” regarding snakebite treatment.  No matter what you do, short of maiming the victim yourself, it’s going to work at least SOME of the time, because the victim received little or no venom.

      The result of all this is that having a good outcome for a snake-bites-dog encounter one time is no guarantee of a good outcome the next time.

      Also be aware that copperheads in particular may be secretive and never (or seldom) seen by you, but your dog’s nose can find snakes you can’t see and get him into trouble.  Snake proofing teaches a dog that the scent is NOT one he wants to follow.  Even if your dog has had experience with a snakebite already, I’d take him for snakeproofing if he’s going to be anywhere where he might encounter another.  He may have learned his lesson from the first encounter, but I wouldn’t want to bet his life on it.

      Note that I am not an expert on snakes.  I have just paid attention to a number of people whom I consider to be experts since moving to Texas decades ago.  All the pet snakes of my youth were nonvenomous.