By Dr. Becker
According to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, snakebites in both pets and humans are an increasing problem in the southeastern U.S. In fact, Georgia Poison Control estimates snakebites in people are up 60 percent from the same period last year.1
Dr. Michelle Goodnight, an emergency and critical care veterinarian in Buford, Georgia, who has seen a 25 percent increase in snakebites in pets, believes an unusually warm winter is to blame. Some of her local colleagues have reported a 50 percent increase in pet snakebites.
Most Pet Snakebites Occur in the Backyard
Most snakebites in family pets typically happen in the backyard, where dogs and many cats are allowed to roam around loose. And while humans tend to make noise and scare off snakes, pets are more apt to quietly approach and even stalk a snake they encounter in their yard. If the snake is moving or rattling, it's an even bigger, more irresistible curiosity. Most pets get bitten on the nose, neck or legs, which are the areas that will naturally be closest to a striking snake.
Even non-venomous snakebites can be quite painful, and bacteria at the bite site can cause a secondary infection. Goodnight warns against trying to capture or kill a snake that has bitten your pet. Instead, quickly snap a cell phone picture to bring with you to the vet. If that's not possible, a physical description of the snake will do. "We typically don't enjoy people bringing venomous snakes into the office," Goodnight told the newspaper. "We prefer a picture."
If you suspect your dog or cat has been bitten by a snake, the best thing to do is get your pet to an emergency animal hospital immediately, as most regular veterinary clinics don't keep anti-venom on hand. If your furry family member is bitten by a poisonous snake and requires anti-venom, be prepared for a sizeable vet bill.
How to Avoid Snakebites
Most of the venomous bites in Georgia involve copperheads. If you live or visit there or other areas where poisonous snakes are prevalent, it's important to keep your dog on a leash while exploring national and state parks. It's also a good idea to make sure your pet steers clear of riverbeds. And since most snakebites to pets occur in backyards, unless you're very sure there are no snakes in yours, it's best to keep your pet on a leash out there as well.
With that said, fortunately, most snakes in the U.S. aren't poisonous, but since even a non-venomous snakebite can be dangerous, it's best to avoid them whenever possible. The first thing you should do is get familiar with common snakes in your area, especially those that are venomous.
Keep your walkways clear of brush, flowers and scrubs, and clear away snake hiding spots in your yard by removing toys, tools and undergrowth. Also clean up any spilled food, fruit or birdseed that might attract rodents, because rodents attract snakes.
When you're out with your pet, keep her on a leash and steer clear of long grass, bushes and rocks. If you see a snake, don't try to walk by it. Instead, turn around and head back the way you came. Snakes can strike across a distance equal to about half their body length, and literally in the blink of an eye.
If your dog is inclined to chase anything that moves (or slithers) you should also consider snake avoidance training offered through many training facilities in endemic areas. I have many clients in the desert southwest that feel this is the best way to protect your dogs.
What to Do If Your Pet Is Bitten
If a snake bites your pet, it may be difficult to determine if it is venomous. Always err on the side of caution and seek emergency veterinary care if you're not sure what type of snake is involved. Often, a bite from a venomous snake will cause swelling that spreads rapidly, but there are some cases, such as a bite from a coral snake, in which minimal symptoms will occur initially, but left untreated the bite can be life-threatening. Additional symptoms of snakebite in pets include:
- Weakness or shortness of breath
- Low blood pressure
Don't apply a tourniquet or ice to your pet, and don't try to suck out the venom or cut out the wound. Remove his collar if the bite is near the neck and try to keep the area of the bite below his heart level. Keep him quiet and calm. The less he moves around the better, as movement hastens the spread of the venom through the bloodstream.
Carry your pet to your vehicle and get him to an emergency animal hospital right away. If you saw the snake that bit him, try to either get a cell phone photo or remember its color and any distinctive markings. Giving a dose of homeopathic Lachesis from your holistic first aid kit on the way to the ER is a good idea.
Again, don't try to catch or kill the snake. It wastes time when time could make the difference between life and death for your pet. It's also risky. Muscle contractions in dead snakes may leave them capable of biting for several hours after death.