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Pets and Snake Bites: Act Quickly!

As the weather warms, our slithery, venomous snake friends become more active. And snake bites are a very common problem in the summertime. Our pets are very curious creatures and tend to lead with their noses and their front limbs, so that’s where we see the most bites (on the face and front legs). These bites often cause extreme pain, swelling and bruising, and that’s typically what you as an owner will notice first, if you don’t happen to see the snake itself. You may also see puncture marks that may be bleeding or oozing.

What should you do if you suspect your pet has been bitten?
Bring him/her in immediately to your veterinarian or to Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. Besides being extremely painful, snake bites can cause skin sloughing, shock, dangerously low blood pressure, bleeding abnormalities, and — in rare cases — death. Upon your pet’s arrival at the clinic, we will likely clean the wound; start medical therapy to make your pet feel more comfortable and maintain blood pressure; and perform diagnostics, including blood tests. Often, your pet will need to stay in the hospital for a short time, depending on the severity of the injury. Most snake bites in our area do not require anti-venom, however.

Although snake bites are very painful and can have very serious consequences, most pets do very well with prompt treatment — so if you suspect your pet has been bitten, act quickly to bring them in. Keep your pet as calm as possible. And if you see the snake, remember what it looked like, but DO NOT PICK IT UP! It can bite you, too!

© 2010 Greenbrier Emergency Animal Hospital. All rights reserved.

  1. Reply
    Katrina Thraves

    Unfortunately our sweet dog Rab was one of the rare occasions where death occurred by snakebite. We are still reeling from the shock of our loss. I think we acted immediately, other than the time it took to drive to town; I think the Greenbrier Emergency Hospital took all the appropriate action available, but I don’t understand why he died, especially being fairly young, fit and, according to the bloodwork, able to fight off the venom. My uninformed opinion is that the bite to his gum probably entered his bloodstream so quickly, it caused more damage than his body could throw off. We are heartbroken, but thankful for your care.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Everyone at Greenbrier is very saddened by Rab’s passing. You reacted perfectly and swiftly and all the possible supportive care was given to him. Sometimes the venom is more potent that the dog can handle, and the dogs can have more severe reactions. It is possible that he had multiple bites from multiple snakes which added to the severity of his condition, as well as the bite locations. We are very sorry for you and your family and are available anytime for questions or thoughts. Thank you for your reply to our post.

  2. Reply
    N fabish

    My cat was bitten several times on two paws, in my garage. There was cat hair of a different color and blood on the floor. The vet thought it could be a snake that caused the multiple bite based on snake behavior. I thought, because I am having a problem with a neighbor keeping a Feral Cat Colony with cats that keep coming into my garage that the “crime scene” was more likely caused by one of the cats, especially because of the hair. How do I tell the difference. The cats legs swelled and got infected.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Great question. Usually snake bites swell very fast and are painful immediately, while cat bites take time to abscess an grow. There is an old saying that if you hear hoof beats it’s probably a horse and not a zebra, which means cat bite might be more likely given the “crime scene.” However, having not seen the case or the cat, I would trust your veterinarian’s opinion. Either way, pain medication, antibiotics and supportive care are essential. Make sure your cat is up to date on its rabies vaccines and good luck!!

  3. Reply

    I think my kitten has been bitten by a baby snake. Shes very playful and the rest of the kittens i guess were playing with it , and they killed the snake. Now only one of the kittens have a faint meow, and is walking slowly, and swishing her tail back and forth constantly. What should i do?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Sorry for the late reply, this message was lost in a sea of spam. Bring the Kitten to the vet ASAP. Anything like this needs immediate attention.

  4. Reply

    All snakes can be dangerous for humans and animals, but the most dangerous are taipan (an Australian snake) and krait (this snake can be found here on Asian southwest). If your pet or any person go bitten by one of these snakes, go IMMEDIATELY to the local hospital and talk the type of snake who bite the animal, if you know these snakes. 🙂 it’s only an advice.

  5. Reply
    Malinda Pierce

    My cat of less than year old was bitten by a snake. Not sure what kind, but I know it was a large snake due to size of bite. I was unable to take him to a vet because they wanted money up front and I live paycheck to paycheck. I gave him tramadol the first night for the pain. He made it through the night. At that point I was still unable to see the bite. I continued with the tramadol and started him on amoxicillin. Tuesday is when he was bit Thursday is when I finally could see where he had been bitten. One tooth mark looks clean but the other is brownish in color and the skin and fur is falling off. I need to know what is my next step.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      You need to find a vet that will help. I do not know any of the snakes in your area or even if it is venomous or just a bite. Sounds like a non-venomous snake and that you are looking at dead skin and possible infection. If that is the case follow an abscess or bite wound protocol from the blog.

  6. Reply
    Deborah Fischer

    You sound like a reasonable physician, so I’ll try you on our problem: we have a home-oriented outdoor cat who came in June 2nd with his paw about three times normal size, but then disappeared before I could examine & help him. After calling every day, he finally came home at midnight Friday the 10th, with his paw now three times what it was on the 2nd! The swelling has revealed what looks like offset, a tentative, and finally an active bite from something, with the greatest venom/poison injected between his 1st & 2nd toes. His dewclaw and pinky toe wiggle loosely like normal, toes 3 & 4 are about twice normal size and relatively normal color, toes 1 & 2 are severely swollen aside at 90 degrees. The space between his 1st & 2nd toes is breached open, and he carefully licks it but allows it to dry; he also occasionally limps on it by rolling it to the outside two toes, but mostly holds it up. He does not seem to be in pain, eats & drinks normally, and is not yowling, except initially when separated from me when I have to go do something. We do not have snakes in the Wyoming mountains where we live, except that we are experiencing many previously unseen species due to climate shift, so a snake is possible; because of this we surmised a skunk bite, or a trap, but these just don’t seem to fit.

    After keeping him confined and on Penicillin G Procaine for several days, he kept jumping into the window trying to escape the bathroom, so we applied Neosporin, and tried wrapping it in a soft bandage so we could let him out into the house, but by the next morning it was leaking blood so bad we removed it, and it seems to be continuing to swell and decompose — but this doesn’t seem to be from him excessively licking, as he is very judicious; and it is NOT infected, does not smell, and the tissue is not necrotic, but is very pink and alive, just extremely swollen, and breaking apart because of the swelling/toxin. It seems it is still getting worse, but we can’t comprehend why the swelling is only from the toes down, and both penicillin, and another antibiotic we had on hand (enrofloxacin (sp?)) are making zero difference in reducing the swelling. The foot is hot, and he seems to have a mildly elevated temperature. He sleeps no more than normal, and is his usual tolerant self around the dogs and other cats. None of the local vets has anything to contribute, short of amputation, so we’re on our own; we’re inclined to think the self-limiting feature the body has implemented (confining the swelling almost entirely to the toes area) means he will likely be able to recover use of his foot, possibly after a long rehabilitation. Have you ever seen anything like this? Any help you can suggest will be greatly appreciated. Thank you sincerely. (The system will not permit me to add a photo; if you’d be willing to receive one via e-mail, it might help you grasp what the poor little guy is so nobly enduring. Thx.)

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      It sounds like it could be venom, trauma, infection (even without the pus and smell it is possible), or neoplasia (cancer.) Has anyone taken xrays? That would be my starting point to rule out cancer and trauma. Fungal infection, foreign material in the foot or joint could do that? (Sterile abscess is unlikely but possible.) Vasculitis and immune responses are rare but possible. I would see a specialist and be VERY concerned about future blood poisoning and sepsis even if the foot does not look terrible. Fist think I would do is confine him with and plac an e-collar to prevent further self trauma then powerful correctly prescribe antibiotics (not PPG) and warm medicated soaks with lots of pain medication. Even if the cat is not showing tell tale pain signs, there is no way that is not very uncomfortable. Get and xray and a second vet opinion. Sounds terrible, sorry.

  7. Reply
    Deborah Fischer

    Add’l info: Imagining a bite upon his unswollen foot, the possible fang spread would only be about half an inch — a small enough snake not to have injected much venom, so maybe this is why it has not gone systemic? A bee/insect sting allergy also seems to be ruled out.
    The time differential is what has us stumped — anti-venom of any kind does not seem to be a likely protocol at this point, it being essentially 3 weeks since this occurred, and him being relatively healthy other than the extremely swollen and slowly disintegrating flesh between those two toes, and only remotely so at (what appears to be) the second fang site (very slightly to the outside of toe 2), nor does debriding the grossly exposed flesh as it is not decaying from infection. We introduced antibiotics to forestall infection, but as for palliative care, we have considered soaking his foot in mineral water (ocean-like saline & other minerals, w/a hint of soothing petroleum) from a hot-spring on our property which has proved healthful in many other circumstances, but he won’t hold still for it. We don’t dare try to clean such a large open wound with peroxide; and he is keeping it clean on his own…. Any idea on why such a distinctly limited but extreme swelling response, and what else might we do to get the swelling down, to relieve the tension within the offended flesh?! (The exposed inner flesh covers a only slightly concave oval about 2″ across, with his toenails peeking out from the swollen edges at the 90 degree marks of 9 & 12 o’clock, looking from above, or 9 & 3 looking straight on (at what would be) between his toes) . Thx.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Sounds even worse than I thought. No peroxide! He is not keeping it clean but making it worse, strict confinement and ecollar! It could be venom and it will or is infected 100% and antivenom is way too late and you dont know the type of animal that did this. He needs xrays, and blood tests to see if it is immune related or if he immune compromised. Soaking in warm soothing water is fine but exposes might expose the wound to more bacteria. You need a second opinion form a good vet ASAP. He probably need IV antibiotics and a wet to dry bandage to help save the tissue. Pain medication is a must.

      • Reply
        Deborah Fischer

        Dear Dr. Stewart,
        Your intelligent and thorough assessment is very useful for us to proceed; thank you very much for taking us seriously as capable animal caretakers. We will promptly & sincerely apply the insights and advice you suggest. We have only one vet, three hours away, who might be able to look at this the way you have, but he is out of town right now, so we will do the medicated soaks, pain meds, and get the collar, and get him in to see this vet ASAP. When living in the country as we do, we have to learn to be as self-reliant as we can, since emergencies often do not have immediate options. We have Bimeda chlorhexidine 2%, 10% povidone iodine (Betadine) solution, and Cetaphil as cleansers, as well as Epsom salts, however, I do not know if using the suggested 1 oz/gal mix of chlorhexidine will be OK for an open wound like this (or a weaker one), nor whether there is any benefit in mixing the Cetaphil into whatever we use in the medicated soak, or as a separate soak (w/ or w/out Epsom). If you can suggest a mix rate, and a ranking of what we have available, it will help; if not, we’ll work it out based on the extensive human and vet medical/surgical experiences we’ve been through. His own health history suggests the rarer possibilities are not as likely as a small timber or diamondback rattler, since our seasons are changing so obviously, and his evidence matches everything I’ve been able to read about snake/rattler bites. Again, thank you so very much, and I will let you know the outcome after he’s been treated! God bless!

        • Reply
          Deborah Fischer

          Dr. Stewart,

          Soaking produced release of a large blood clot with profuse bleeding which quickly clotted again, disinclining us further to the idea of any significant amount of anti-coagulating venom. Finally able to see our vet, an X-ray revealed nothing except what appeared to be excess tissue filling in between the toes, rather than it being swelling from infection of any kind. She did concur it appeared to have been instigated by a snake bite.

          As a result, our beloved Hero had his leg amputated a week after our exchange above, accompanied by several weeks of draining an infection that took hold at the stump. He is now showing evidence of further growths on two of his remaining extremities, some of which we had removed, revealing them to be “highly vascularized”. Microscopic identification confirms it to be squamous cell carcinoma, so we are seeing him through his life as comfortably as he is able. Thank you again for your wise and thorough intervention! God Bless.

  8. Reply

    I have an outside cat that has been bitten by a snake. We think it happened Saturday June 25. We were out of town neighbors were feeding them. So now it is Monday June 27. She is eating drinking and going to bathroon. But paw is still swollen. What do we do.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Bring her to a vet asap for pain medication and antibiotics.

  9. Reply
    Jo Len Jeffus

    We have two 3 month old puppies that were bitten by a copperhead several times over the last few months. We gave them medicine and they seemed to recover fine. Now, both puppies are having trouble with balance and shaking. Could this be a side effect from the venom?

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Several times over the past few months? WOW! Bummer. I have never heard of this but I guess it is possible. I really do not know, we usually do not see this after copperhead bites.

  10. Reply
    Steven Stewart

    Hi. I have a cat that has been showing up at my house for months. I believe it is a female and I am guessing that she is fixed, but that is just background info. Our landlady told us that the cat belonged to someone several houses down from us. About a week ago the cat showed up with all the fur missing at the top of the back legs all around the base of the tail. Today it showed up again meowing at me and the area looks worse. I feel like I can almost see the bones and what is left of the muscular tissue in the area, but it also has an orange tint in the fur on its back legs, so I am not sure if that is a stain from leaking pus or someone tried pouring iodine solution around the wound. The area is mostly white slightly metled looking flesh with some reddish sore looking parts. It looked like it was starving and I felt so bad that i left it some food and water, and now it is crashing on my front porch chair. The venomous snakes found in our area are Copperheads and Coral Snakes, but one of my cats killed a copperhead and the other was bitten on the nose by one. Do you think this could be a copperhead bite? Or, perhaps, some other kind of fight wound? An infection? I really cannot afford to take in another cat but if there is something I can do to help that would not overextend me financially I would appreciate any advice you could give me. I tried to include all pertinent information. Thanks, your post was informative and I see that you have tried to answer other people’s questions as well as you could, so I thought I might just post this and see if I can figure anything out.. Its starting to get cold outside here in east Texas, but I really can’t bring the cat inside or anything, but seeing the poor thing in that condition makes me wish I could find some way to help. I wonder if it might be better off it were put down, because I imagine it must be in pretty bad pain, and I wonder if it has a chance at getting any better the way the affected area looks. Thanks!

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Bummer, sounds like a bad situation. I don’t think there is very much you can do without seeing a vet and getting some kind of opinion or advice about how bad it is. Can you try the local SPCA and tell them who’s cat you think it is? Can you knock on doors and see if you and the owner can come up with a plan? I would be worried about infection, cancer, bite, abscess…. and the list goes on. I think leaving the cat for the winter is not a good option. Try knocking on doors or asking an SPCA for help? Sorry I cant help more.

  11. Reply
    Sharon callus

    Hi. I am desperate for answers why my English bulldog 10 1/2 died so suddenly, and was extremely bloated. The dog was fine in the evening and dead the next. I suspect a snake bite. Would this cause her to bloat so quickly? It was a 40 degree day but she was in the shade when found.

    • Reply
      Dr. Stewart

      Could be anything. Sorry to hear about your loss. Maybe a GDV or gastric torsion, ruptured spleen, heart problems, seizures, snake, spider, poison……. could be anything. After a night or a day in 40 degree temp (celcius?) the dog would bloat postmortem. Sorry for you loss.

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