Snake Bite First Aid For Dogs & Cats
How would you react if you found out that your dog or cat had been bit by a snake?
Would you panic? Would you call the vet immediately? Or would you wait until the next day to see if there was any swelling or bleeding?
Contrary to popular belief, snake bites to our pets don’t just occur when rural or out in the bush.
City dwellers can be affected and knowing what emergency first aid to give your pet whose been bitten by a snake can mean the difference between life and death.
In this article, you’ll learn the first aid you need to perform when you discover a pet has been bitten by a snake.
We’ll start with emergency treatment including how to recognise that your pet is alive, but maybe just paralysed, and what you need to do to keep them alive until you reach a vet.
We’ll also cover how to recognise the signs of snakebite and how the venom from different species of snake affects the body.
What To Do If You See Your Pet Get Bitten By A Snake
If you have just seen your dog, cat or horse be bitten by a snake, then the first thing to do is call your local vet clinic and advise them that you are on your way with your pet.
Be mindful that not all veterinary clinics stock snake anti-venom so be prepared for the vet practice to tell you to go elsewhere.
If you do recognise the type of snake, make sure you advise the vet so that they can prepare the appropriate antivenom treatment.
Take a photo of the snake if you aren’t sure what species it is, or if there is a dead snake present, take it with you for identification purposes.
Do not attempt to catch or kill the snake – keep a safe distance
Identification of the snake is not crucial as the vet can use a snake detection kit to determine the snake species and therefore the type of antivenom to use.
Snake Emergency Checklist
Call your vet
Check for a heartbeat
Start mouth to nose resuscitation – if they are not breathing
Pick up and carry your pet to the car
Have someone else drive to the vet clinic while you continue breathing for your pet
Immediate First Aid Management
Check for a heartbeat
Watch this video to learn how to find a heartbeat (the position is the same regardless of species) or read our article on vital signs for more in-depth instructions.
Snakebite First Aid For Dogs And Cats
- If you find your dog or cat collapsed on the ground near a snake, and they look dead, ALWAYS check for a heartbeat – IF the dog has a heartbeat then it CAN potentially be saved. Many dangerous snakes produce a venom that paralyses the body. These pets are NOT unconscious. They can hear you and know you are there. They cannot blink or move but they can certainly hear and feel. If you act fast they might have a chance.
- Start mouth-to-nose resuscitation if there is respiratory distress. Hold the dog’s mouth closed with your hand, place your entire mouth over the nose and blow, forcefully, every five seconds. Venomous toxins don’t have a direct effect on the heart, but without oxygen, the heart will soon stop beating, blood flow will diminish, and as this occurs lack of oxygen to the brain will occur resulting in death. Lack of oxygen will kill your pet before anything else.So please – if your pet is collapsed and appears not to be breathing, even if you are unsure whether your pet has a heartbeat or not, it is far better to breathe for your pet and drive to the vet clinic than give up.
- Minimise movement and excitement. Carry your pet to the car.do this even if your pet is alert and able to walk. Get someone else to driveYou want to keep calm and still to discourage the spread of venom.
- Apply a pressure immobilisation bandage – not essential if the venomous bite is on a limb or area that can be bandaged, you can apply a firm bandage to help prevent movement and pressure to limit blood flow, but this isn’t essential, don’t waste time doing this if you don’t have a bandage on-hand. Do not use a tourniquet as these will restrict blood flow to muscles and result in cellular death and risk limb loss. Not to mention when the bandage is released – a big bolus of venom can escape into the bloodstream.
- Locate bite marks – not essential. If you find a bite mark, you can cover the area with a light bandage pad, but there is no need to clean the area as the vet will handle this. Don’t be tempted to apply an ice pack – this will restrict blood flow and worsen the local effects of the toxin. Do not be tempted to suck out the venom with your mouth.
Video: Dr Leigh Explains Snake Bite First Aid For Dogs And Cats
Signs And Symptoms Of Snake Bites On Dogs
All snake bites or suspicion of a bite require emergency treatment and/or assessment by a vet.
The risk of thinking that your pet has received a dry bite and doing nothing will often result in death. You have to ask yourself, do you really want to risk that?
Veterinary treatment for snake bites is expensive.
A single vile of snake anti-venom can cost anywhere from $500 to well over $1000 depending on the type of snake.
It can be tricky to determine if the signs you are seeing are the result of a snake bite, especially if you don’t have any evidence that suggests your pet has been attacked.
In these situations, we need to really consider the circumstances –
- was your pet completely normal leading up to the event
- were they in an area, known to have snakes – have you seen snakes there before
- did you notice other animals going a bit crazy just before noticing an issue with your pet – perhaps birds were screeching, other dogs were barking – these can be a sign of a snake in the vicinity.
The symptoms of snakebite are pretty non-specific – sadly, that definitely doesn’t help us much at all in the heat of the moment.
But if the circumstances above fit and you see any of these clinical signs then snake bite is high up there on your suspicion list- and you really need to get to the emergency vet.
Signs Of Snake Bite In Dogs And Cats
- Sudden weakness, wobbliness (ataxia) and/or collapse
- Shaking or twitching
- Dilated pupils
- Inability to blink
- Vomiting, gagging, diarrhoea
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
- Blood in urine
- Panting or very shallow, weak breathing
- Excessive drooling
- Coma or death
- A visible snake bite wound with swelling around it
One of the strangest signs we often will see is the dog that will collapse then suddenly appear normal – getting up and wandering around as if nothing happened or maybe just a little wobbly.
These dogs are at high risk.
More often than not these dogs have received a fatal dose of envenomation and will need emergency care and treatment.
This is a common presentation in dogs who have been bitten by a brown snake.
Likewise, cats will often be found collapsed and paralysed for movement, but still able to breathe and move their tail.
The Australian whip snake is often considered to be the culprit in these situations.
Bottom line, if you are suspicious that your pet has been bitten, then it is far better to seek veterinary attention than to try any home remedies.
Snake Bite Home Remedies
There are no home remedies that will save your pet’s life if they have received a life-threatening degree of envenomation.
Snakebite victims showing clinical signs consistent with severe envenomation must receive anti-venom.
A dry bite is a reason why certain home remedies are thought to be miraculous cures, one such example being vitamin C.
No amount of vitamin C will ever be able to reverse the effects of venom.
What’s more, injectable Vitamin C is a highly irritant solution and will cause pain, discomfort and increase the risk of infection at the injection site.
NEVER inject vitamin C into the muscle of your pet in an attempt to ‘treat’ a snake bite.
Types Of Snake Bites
Once at the vet clinic the medical care your animal will receive will depend on the species of snake they’ve been bitten by.
Aside from local tissue damage common clinical syndromes we see are:
Some snake venoms will cause a procoagulant coagulopathy disorder which basically means it changes the way the body clots blood so that there is less clotting and the affected animal is at increased risk of bleeding to death.
There are some subtleties in the way individual poisonous snakes do this, but essentially, the types of snakes that have this type of effect include brown snake, tiger and taipans, mulga and collet’s snakes.
Some snakes cause severe damage to muscle – a process called myolysis.
Bites can cause severe muscle pain, weakness and myoglobinuria.
Sometimes these signs aren’t evident immediately and develop over days.
Snakes that cause local muscle damage include: mulga snakes, collett’s snake, tiger snakes, rough scaled snake, taipans, black snakes, cottonmouth.
Bites that are neurotoxic in nature cause progressive descending flaccid paralysis.
Usually, the area closest to the bite is affected first, so if on the face, you may see an inability to blink, the tongue hanging out, dribbling.
As the neurotoxin spreads, it affects the muscles of the diaphragm so the animal can’t breathe. It will also cause weakness in all the limbs.
Snakes that cause this issue include: tiger, taipan, death adders.
Vet Treatment Of Snake Bites
Venomous snakebites are a medical emergency requiring prompt vet treatment.
On arrival at the vet hospital, a team of vets and nurses will work together to stabilise your pet and confirm the diagnosis of snakebite so that antivenom can be given.
Antivenom itself can cause an allergic reaction, so must be given slowly to prevent anaphylactic shock. Often, multiple vials are required.
Effective treatment will depend on the clinical syndrome caused by the type of venom – your pet may require IV fluids, blood products, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, oxygen and sometimes assisted ventilation.
Further diagnostics such as blood clotting tests, ultrasound or radiographs and blood chemistry tests are often required.
The cost of medical treatment for pet owners can increase dramatically especially when constant supportive care is required.
Thankfully, pet insurance will often cover treatment and for many pets, they will need at least 72 hours in the hospital and a couple of weeks of rest at home.
A favourable prognosis depends on the type of venomous species, the dose of venom your pet received, and if you managed to get early and aggressive treatment.
For the most part, vets are able to give you a good indication of prognosis once your pet arrives at the clinic.
Long-term effects from snake venom are minimal.
For those pets who have a bite mark, but show no clinical signs of envenomation, then the bite was either from a non-venomous snake or it was a dry bite.
In these situations, the bite wound is cleaned and treated as you would a puncture wound.
Antibiotics and pain relief in the form of non-steroidal anti-inflammatories are often prescribed.
If you have problems with snakes entering your property, check out our article on how to get rid of snakes from your home where we discuss ways to safeguard your homes and backyards from snakes.
Frequently Asked Questions
How Long After A Snake Bite Will A Dog Die?
Sadly, a dog can die from a snake bite within an hour, it all depends on the type and dose of venom that they received.
Cats seem to fair a little better.
The onset of clinical signs of a snake bite in dogs can occur within 20minutes of being bitten but in some cases, signs are not seen for up to 6 hours post bite.
This is why it is extremely important to seek veterinary assistance immediately.
The sooner that a pet receives antivenom, the sooner it can act to neutralise the toxic venom.