Approximately 300,000 dogs and cats are bitten by venomous snakes each year in the US, and prevention, protection, and treatment are key. Rattlesnake venom can cause serious injury and even death to pets. Most cases are reported during the warmer seasons, although here in Arizona they are reported and treated year-round.
Snake bites are life threatening, extremely painful, expensive to treat, and can cause permanent damage even when the dogs survive, so it’s important to know the facts.
How a Rattlesnake Bite Effects Your Pet
The rattlesnake bite is hemotoxic, meaning that the venom quickly begins to affect the animal’s ability to clot its blood. Decreased clotting factors can cause uncontrolled bleeding and can lead to shock, and ultimately to death. Swelling often occurs quickly around the bite site, however the severity of swelling does not always correlate with the severity of systemic effects.
What to Do During a Rattlesnake Encounter
- When you encounter a rattlesnake, remain calm and do not panic.
- Look immediately around to find out where the snake is located, and give the snake plenty of space. If your pet is in hunting mode or moving towards the snake, restrain your pet without putting yourself in danger.
- With your pet, slowly back away out of striking distance (which is at least half the snake’s length).
- DO NOT attempt to handle the snake or kill the snake.
- If you’re hiking or in a public area, alert others about the snake’s location.
Symptoms of a Rattlesnake Bite in Dogs
Immediate signs that your pet has been bitten by a rattlesnake include:
- puncture wounds (often bleeding)
- immediate severe pain
- blue or purple bruising
More serious signs that develop a few hours after the rattlesnake bite include:
- stupor, collapse
- hypertension and shock
- lethargy and weakness
- muscle tremors
- slowed respiration
How Rattlesnake Bites Are Treated in Dogs and Cats
Animals suspected of being bitten by a rattlesnake should have immediate veterinary attention. Severe pain may cause your pet to snap or bite. Use caution when approaching the affected area. Do not attempt to treat the wound.
If possible, immediately transport your pet to VET.
DO NOT delay in seeking veterinary assessment and treatment. It can be up to 18 hours before signs become apparent. Antivenin is most effective if given within the first 24 hours.
Watch for swelling of the face and neck — collars can become too tight, making the swelling worse.
Upon arrival at VETMED, a veterinarian will assess your pet. Some treatments that may be performed include:
- Blood work to assess ability of the blood to clot
- Pain injection
- Antivenin given as an IV infusion
- Antibiotics if an infection is noted
Further treatment options can be discussed with the pet owner and family veterinarian.