Veterinarians Treat Snakebites in Dogs

Facial swelling from snakebite
Facial swelling from snakebite

When I first found out I was moving down to Florida, I was excited to practice in a whole new world. Tampa is different from New York in so many ways. Then, the excitement was replaced by fear. Perhaps the new world of Tampa will bring new challenges. There are emergencies that are common in Tampa, but virtually non-existent in New York City. I made a list of such emergencies. My list included complications from heart worm disease, bufo (toad) toxicity, sago palm toxicity, and snakebites. I scrambled to learn as much about these emergencies as I could.

Many pets are bitten by snakes every year. Down in Tampa, this is a daily occurrence. Most of the bites are from crotalids, a family of snakes which includes rattlesnakes. Some pets are bitten by coral snakes, members of the elapidae which includes cobras. Coral snake venom is different from rattlesnake venom. Coral snake envenomation causes life-threatening neurologic problems, whereas rattlesnake venom causes other problems such as bleeding disorders, severe inflammation–often facial swelling as seen here–severe infections, and sometimes death.

Some links about rattlesnakes
Pictures of rattlesnakes in Florida
Florida’s Venomous Snakes

Dogs are often bitten on the face when they stupidly try to sniff or bite a rattlesnake. The bite is often very painful. Not all rattlesnake bites contain venom. A small percentage of bites are “dry.” However, waiting to find out whether or not the bite contained enough venom to cause problems, is often a deadly mistake. Treatment includes intensive care hospitalization with close, round-the-clock monitoring for some of the life-threatening complications. Antivenin (sometimes known as anti-venom) should be administered as soon as possible, but is expensive to maintain, and may not be available everywhere. IV fluids are given in the hospital, as well as IV antibiotics and pain medication. Doctors will want to monitor coagulation (blood clotting) times as well as general bloodwork to make sure all the organ systems are continuing to function properly. Despite appropriate therapy, some dogs still die from snakebites.

Believe it or not, the dog in the picture above is a miniature pinscher. His face is dramatically swollen. While this is a funny picture, the danger to the dog is clear. Swelling this severe could easily close off the dogs airway suffocating him. This is the least life-threatening of all the potential complications of snakebite.