What You Need to Know about Dogs and Snakebites

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake

Here in Southern California, most rattlesnake sightings occur in April, May and June. However, it’s barely March, and the Companion Animal Hospital at Helen Woodward Animal Center in San Diego has already treated its first dog snakebite victim of the year. If snakes are coming out of hibernation earlier than usual, now is the time to brush up on knowledge about snakebites and your pet.

What do I do if my dog is bitten by a snake?

You’ll likely know right away if your dog has been bitten by a snake. Symptoms will appear quickly and include:

  • Bleeding from the puncture wound
  • Irritation (You’ll see your pet rubbing or licking the area.)
  • Pain
  • Swelling

“There aren’t very many things that cause that level of reaction that quickly,” explained Angela Gaeto, DVM, of Companion Animal Hospital.

After you determine a bite has occurred, focus on getting your pet to a veterinary hospital as soon as possible.

“You can’t think, ‘I’m going to give them Benadryl at home and they’re going to be fine,’” Gaeto said.  “You need to get them to the hospital.”

Dog Snakebite Prevention

Dog snakebites are extremely painful and — in worst cases — can be deadly, so prevention is key. Gaeto says the best way to prevent snakebites is to always keep your pet on a leash when hiking places where there could be rattlesnakes. (Think trails, canyons and areas with low bushes or groundcover.)

Also, make your yard a less appealing place for snakes to nest. Keep grass trimmed, remove any debris, and rid the area of rodents.

The Rattlesnake Vaccine

While the rattlesnake vaccine won’t completely protect your pet from the effects of a snakebite, it can lessen the severity of symptoms and lead to a faster, smoother recovery. Gaeto recommends the vaccine for pets who often adventure in the Great Outdoors, but emphasizes that even vaccinated pets need to get to a vet clinic should a bite occur.

“You’re not able to prevent [all effects of the venom] with just the vaccine, but you should be able to stop it with treatment if caught early,” she explained.

The deactivated venom in the vaccine works against Western Diamondback Rattlesnake bites, but will also protect against snakes with similar venom. The vaccine is given once a year after two initial doses.

Afraid of snakes? Our SnakeSmart program will help you overcome that fear and teach you what to do if you encounter a snake in the wild. Learn more here.

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