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Venomous snake bites are a real risk to RVing pets. Be aware and be prepared

Venomous snake bites are a real risk to your RVing pets. Knowing what do do if this happens to you and your pet is very important.

I received this email from reader Rebecca N. and knew the information was worth sharing with everyone.

Rebecca wrote, “We are camping in Northern Florida, and I’m concerned about cottonmouth moccasins and our very curious young dog. What is the first aid if he were to be bitten? How long would we have to get him to an emergency vet?”

The short answer is: Get your pup to emergency immediately.

Venomous snake bites are a real risk in Florida. Cottonmouths, rattlesnakes and copperhead snakes are all venomous in the pit viper family. Coral snakes are also very dangerous.

While travelling and camping in areas with these snakes, scout out the emergency vet services in the areas you will be staying. Know where and how long it takes to get there and, most importantly, call to make sure they have anti-venom and are equipped to treat a bite. Have this information ready so no time is lost if your pet gets bitten.

What to do if my pet gets a snake bite?

Call the closest emergency veterinarian clinic to warn them a snake bite is incoming and make sure they have anti-venom. The bite, the bite location and the type of snake impacts prognosis, but the most important thing is to get anti-venom on board ASAP—the faster the better—within a few hours.

Anti-venom is the only proven therapy for a pit viper bite. It binds and neutralizes venom toxins. It is administered intravenously and is most effective when administered early—ideally within four hours. Your pet must have continuous monitoring during treatment.

In the heat of the emergency, try to identify the snake. What color was it? How big was it? How did it bite your pet? Did you see it locked on?

Snake bite first aid

A lot will depend on where the bite is. If the bite is on a limb, there are things you can do to slow the spread of the venom. But if the bite is on the body, chest or head there is not much you can do except jump in the car and get him to the emergency clinic ASAP.

If the bite is on a limb, applying pressure and keeping the limb BELOW the heart/head will slow circulation and slow the spread of the venom. Keeping your pet calm and immobilized will be a huge challenge but it will also help.

Sometimes, the snake does not release its venom when it bites. This is known as a dry bite. There is no way for you to determine if the bite was full of venom or not, so you must assume that it is a full-on venomous bite.

Pressure bandage and splint

Put two elasticized ace bandages in your emergency first aid kit. A splint of some sort to prevent flexing of a leg’s joint will also come in handy. Here is what you should do if your pet is bitten on the lower leg or foot:

  • Call the emergency clinic and alert them you will be bringing in a dog bitten by a snake.
  • If you have an ace bandage, apply it, keeping the pet as calm and immobilized as possible. Time is of the essence; however, applying a bandage can help. If you can do it in the car on the way to the clinic, that is ideal. But do not spend a huge amount of time—I would say 15-20 minutes maximum depending on how far away you are from the emergency clinic:
        • The pressure bandage should be a broad (15 cm) elastic ace bandage. The bandage is applied over the bite site and then down and up to cover the whole limb. It should be applied about as tight as that used for a sprained ankle. For practical purposes, pressure is sufficient if the bandage is comfortably tight and snug but allows a finger to be slipped under it. If you have a splint, use your second bandage to secure the splint across the joint. Be careful not to apply the bandage too tightly as doing this can damage muscles and tissues. 
  • Keep the bitten leg DOWN, below the heart and head. Use pillows to prop up your pet.

Dog could be in clinic a few days

Be prepared for your dog to be in the clinic for a few days. Snake bites are incredibly painful and a big part of treatment is pain control. The venom causes profound tissue damage and is a powerful blood thinner. Your dog may or may not go into shock. All of this makes hospitalization and prompt treatment with anti-venom so very important. 

Prognosis is good for bites on the limbs with prompt treatment. However, bites on the body, especially the neck, chest and mouth, can be deadly even with treatment.

Prevention

Keeping your dog on a leash and not letting him run through underbrush will go a long way to preventing snake bites. Being prepared for a bite can save your dog’s life.

Rebecca’s Cooper

##RVT1097

Karel Carnohan DVM
Karel Carnohan DVM
After a long career in finance, Dr. Carnohan returned to school and graduated from the Kansas State College of Veterinary Medicine at the tender age of 50. She has worked in Canada and the United States in both small and large animal medicine. She retired in 2020 after selling her feline-exclusive veterinary practice in Asheville, NC. She currently lives in the Coachella Valley, CA and travels in her Newmar toy hauler with her multiple cats. Her interests include hockey (having played for many years), the brown bears of Katmai, cats and scooping litter boxes.

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Leslie P
2 months ago

We have always had our dogs snake aversion trained. It has worked extremely well for us. We’ve had a few contacts with rattlesnakes and our dogs were the ones that alerted us to its presence. They are quick to avoid it.

Pammy
2 months ago

I live and camp and hike in California where there are rattlesnakes. I get a yearly rattlesnake vaccine for my dog. You still need to get your dog to the vet ASAP but this vaccine gives you more time.

Neal Davis
2 months ago

Is it true that some dog breeds have a natural resistance to venomous snake bites? I read that somewhere recently, but did not read further to conclude if this is true or not. Thanks for the information Dr. Carnohan!

Lee A.
2 months ago

One way to help prevent dogs from snakebites is to have them attend a snake avoidance training class. Every dog we have ever owned has been trained to avoid snakes. Our present dog is now 3 years old and has been through two such classes. They are trained to avoid snakes by sight and smell. The classes are well worth the money and a lot cheaper than an emergency Vet bill!

Bob M
2 months ago

Wait till you get the vet bill for anti-venom.

Bill Braniff
2 months ago

One of the absolute best methods of making sure you or your pet does NOT get a poisonous snake bite is this.

Come to our great State of Maine. Maine has NO poisonous snakes here! None, Nada, Khong. Yup none at all. Besides Maines natural beauty, millions of acres of lakes rivers streams ponds forests and the Great North Atlantic Ocean, we are a State of friendly people, real sea food, Lobster, walking trails and much much more. Hope to see you this year or next.

Bob M
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill Braniff

Maine sounds great.

Cancelproof
2 months ago
Reply to  Bill Braniff

Lobster rolls for lunch and dinner, in Maine, sounds like a good plan. CU soon.

Paul
2 months ago

Snakes aren’t your only concern. We had a Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog that was ultimately killed by fire ants. The bites led to infection that caused a kind of paralysis.

Lorelei
2 months ago

That would be so horrible. I do take phone numbers and addresses of vets that are closest to where I’ll be. He is always on leash. I avoid places where snakes would be when possible. I hate them. Some people get their dog training to avoid snakes. My dog is not interested in them which helps a bit maybe. For some rattlesnakes, there is a vaccination given before. When I asked my vet about about that, he said there is not a vaccination for our kind of snake. There are no poisonous snakes where I live. Once, I went to such a place, I walked the dog when it was too cold for snakes to be out or where I could see all around. I am extremely careful, but I’d rather avoid such places. I’m told to take a walking stick and thump on the ground a lot so they can get out of the way, so I do that also.

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