The Pet Least Likely to Survive a Snakebite

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

eastern brown snake

Story at-a-glance -

  • Without antivenom, only 31% of dogs survive a bite by an eastern brown snake, but this increases to 66% in cats
  • Even when antivenom treatment is given, cats are still significantly more likely to survive a snakebite than dogs
  • Dogs have faster clotting blood than cats, which makes them more vulnerable to snake venoms as dogs would likely enter a state where blood clotting fails sooner
  • Behavioral differences between cats and dogs are also likely involved, with dogs more likely to be bitten on the nose or mouth, which are highly vascularized areas, while cats typically swat at snakes with their paws
  • Dogs are often more active than cats, which allows snake venom to travel throughout the body faster
  • If a pet is bitten by a snake, keep your pet still, carry him to your vehicle and get to an emergency veterinary hospital immediately

Due to the way their blood clots, cats have a significant advantage over dogs when it comes to snakebites, with a survival rate twice that of their canine counterparts. The finding comes from a team of researchers at the University of Queensland in Brisbane, Australia, which looked into the effects of 11 snake venoms on blood-clotting agents in both cats and dogs.1,2

Snakes can pose a serious threat to dogs and cats, with an estimated 150,000 such pets bitten by pit vipers, the largest group of venomous snakes in the U.S., each year.3 In Australia, meanwhile, 76% of snakebites to domestic pets are caused by the eastern brown snake, leading to a venom-induced condition known as consumptive coagulopathy.

During consumptive coagulopathy, clotting factors are decreased, leaving the blood unable to clot. As a result, animals are at risk of bleeding to death. Without antivenom, only 31% of dogs survive a bite by an eastern brown snake, but this increases to 66% in cats. Even when antivenom treatment is given, cats are still significantly more likely to survive than dogs.

Why Cats Are More Likely to Survive a Snakebite

Researchers used a coagulation analyzer to test eastern brown snake venom along with 10 additional snake venoms on dog and cat plasma. Lead study author Christina Zdenek explained in a news release that the snake venoms acted faster on dog plasma than cat, or human, plasma:

“This indicates that dogs would likely enter a state where blood clotting fails sooner and are therefore more vulnerable to these snake venoms. The spontaneous clotting time of the blood — even without venom — was dramatically faster in dogs than in cats.

This suggests that the naturally faster clotting blood of dogs makes them more vulnerable to these types of snake venoms. And this is consistent with clinical records showing more rapid onset of symptoms and lethal effects in dogs than cats.”4

Behavioral differences between cats and dogs are also likely involved. Dogs, being avid sniffers, often explore the world with their nose to the ground.

Getting their nose too close to a snake could lead to a bite in the highly vascularized area of the nose and mouth, while a cat is likely to swat at a snake with its paw, leading to a bite in a less vascularized area. Associate professor Bryan Fry, another study author, added that activity levels may also play a role:

“… [D]ogs are usually more active than cats, which is not great after a bite has taken place because the best practice is to remain as still as possible to slow the spread of venom through the body.”5

Snakebites Can Happen in Your Own Backyard

A family in California issued a warning to other pet owners after their dog, Winston, was bitten by a rattlesnake in their own backyard.6 While they said they always watch out for rattlesnakes when hiking the trails near their home, they let their guard down when it came to their backyard.

The 10.5-year-old dog was barking incessantly, then came inside and hid. Within 15 minutes, his owners noticed him drooling and acting abnormally, then noticed a puncture wound on his nose.

Winston was treated by an emergency veterinarian, who said they get about two rattlesnake bite patients a day, and fortunately recovered after receiving one vial of antivenom. The family said they now survey their backyard for rattlesnakes before letting out their dog.

Backyards are actually a common spot for snakebites, as dogs and cats roam freely and may be attracted to a moving, rattling snake. When on walks with their owners, people often make noise that scares snakes away, while a pet can quietly sneak up on or even stalk a snake.

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What to Do if Your Pet Is Bitten by a Snake

If your pet is bitten by a snake, rapid emergency treatment is crucial, especially for dogs. As the researchers from the featured study noted, “compared to cats, dogs require earlier snakebite first-aid and antivenom to prevent the onset of lethal venom effects.”7 If you can, snap a picture of the snake or make note of its appearance so you can describe it to veterinary staff.

Do not apply a tourniquet or ice to your pet but do keep him as quiet as possible and keep the area of the bite below his heart level, if possible. Carry your pet to your vehicle and get to an emergency animal hospital immediately. Giving a dose of homeopathic Lachesis from your holistic first aid kit on the way to the emergency vet is a good idea, as is calling while you’re in route so they know to expect you.

Giving Benadryl at 1 mg per pound of body weight while on your way to the veterinarian has been criticized as being worthless by many veterinary organizations, but its supporters tout it won’t hurt and may prevent reactions from antivenin, if given. In some cases, your pet may be bitten without you noticing. Signs and symptoms of snakebites include:

  • Swelling
  • Bleeding
  • Pain
  • Weakness or shortness of breath
  • Low blood pressure

If you notice any of these symptoms and live in an area with venomous snakes, seek emergency veterinary care right away. The faster your pet receives treatment, the higher his chances of survival will be.

If there’s a chance snakes may be residing in your backyard, keep your pet on a leash when outdoors, and keep walkways clear of brush, undergrowth and other snake hiding spots. Snake avoidance training is also useful, especially if you live in endemic areas like the desert southwest.