With spring here, you are probably ready to hike, camp, or just spend a day out in the garden. Especially after the harsh winter many states experienced this year, people are more eager than ever to get out and enjoy fresh air and sunshine. However, if your dog is accompanying you, be extra alert for snakes, because your curious dog probably won't. Snakebite poses a very real threat to dogs: 150,000 dogs and cats are bitten by venomous snakes every year, mostly between April and October. Here's how to minimize the chances of your dog taking fangs to the face--and what to do in case it happens anyway.
Why snakes bite dogs
Dogs love fresh air and nature. They like to sniff around and discover who (or what) has been in the area recently. It's not too hard to imagine Rover spying something coiled up under a bush and pursuing it with his nose. One too-nosy sniff and Rover is whimpering and pawing at his face.
Or, you might round a curve and find a snake right where Maxine was about to put her paw next. You're shocked, Maxine's shocked, and so is the snake; before you know it Maxine is yelping, and the snake is slithering off.
Contrary to popular belief, most snakes are not aggressive. They would rather that you leave them alone, and they would rather do the same to you. However, if your paths collide, the snake is going to win the confrontation.
Dogs are most likely to be bitten in the face or head by snakes; this is the case 70-80% of the time. The most frequent culprits are rattlesnakes; in fact, rattlers and related species of pit vipers account for 99% of venomous bites to pets. Dogs are most likely to be bitten in southern states where the climate is warm, dry, and attractive to snakes: Arizona, Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, Alabama, and Florida.
How to prevent snake bites
There are some ways to reduce the chances of snake bite for your dog.
Vaccinate. A snake bite vaccine is available but has garnered mixed reviews. Your dog would receive two to three shots over a month and half, and then would need a booster every 6-12 months. However, although the vaccine may help your dog's body neutralize the poisonous effects of snake venom, it is not proven effective. Further, if bitten, your dog would still require veterinary treatment.
Leash. Keep Rover or Maxine on a leash, and stay on the path. Don't allow exploration into bushes or sniffing under rocks.
Just say no. If your dog finds a dead snake, don't allow curiosity take its course. Even dead snakes can still bite.
Listen. Be aware of sounds around you, in particular for the telltale rattling that signals a snake is nearby and ready to strike.
What to do if your dog is bitten
If a snake does bite your dog, the most important thing is to remain calm. Your dog needs you to act swiftly and smartly. Don't try to administer first aid, or to catch the snake for identification (though if you can remember its markings, that is valuable information to give the vet). Just get your dog to the closest veterinary hospital, like Pet Medical Center – Full Service Veterinary Care, as the next 12-24 hours will be critical. The vet can assess the severity of the bite and treat with antivenin.
It is of interest to know what not to do if your dog is bitten. Do NOT:
suck the wound to get the venom out (you can't)
apply a tourniquet (this cuts off circulation)
cut an X near the wound (this accomplishes nothing except a new wound)
apply ice (you will merely concentrate the venom in that area and damage the muscle tissue)
put any substance on the wound (the venom is already in the bloodstream)
If the great outdoors is calling you and your canine friend, be snake smart. Don't stay indoors in fear. Do all you can to prevent a bite, but if your dog is bitten, stay calm and get to a veterinary hospital right away.