What to Do if Your Dog Gets a Rattlesnake Bite

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Dr. Megan McCorkel

Sep 18, 2020

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Throughout the warmer months of the year, most of us are out hiking and enjoying nature. One thing that we need to be aware of are rattlesnakes. These reptiles come out of hibernation during the warmer months of the year (i.e April through September in most parts of the country) to gather food, bask in the sunlight, and prepare for the next hibernation. Rattlesnakes can be found in all sorts of habitats, from deserts to forests, grasslands to swamps.

Do you know what to do if a rattlesnake bites your dog? Do you know how to recognize if a rattlesnake has bitten your dog? In this article, we’ll give you all the basic information on preventative steps, and action to take if your dog encounters a rattlesnake.

Signs of Rattlesnake Bites in Dogs

The first step in prevention is to recognize it is a rattlesnake. Rattlesnakes come from the etiology Crotalinae. This group of snakes has a characteristic broad triangular shaped head, long movable fangs, and as most of us know, rattlesnakes have a rattle at the end of their body. When a rattlesnake is afraid or defensive, it shakes the end of its tail quickly, causing a rattling noise that gives the snake its common name.

Before you learn what to do in the case of a dog rattlesnake bite, you should first learn to recognize the symptoms specific to rattlesnake bites over other types of snake bites. This information can help you narrow down what snake has bitten you dog, and may help your veterinarian better understand your dog’s condition.

If a snake bites your pet, and you suspect is venomous, it is always better to seek medical attention. Get your pet checked out, its better to be safe than to wait and be sorry.

Two Separate Puncture Wounds from Fangs with Increased Bleeding

For a dog rattlesnake bite, you will likely see two wounds from the snake’s two large fangs, spaced evenly apart from each other. If the wound has already swollen significantly, however, you may not see these marks.

The bite may be bleeding an excessive amount if it is from a rattlesnake. This is in part due to anticoagulant properties of the venom, which disrupts the body’s normal clotting mechanisms. If untreated, the bleeding can become uncontrolled leading to shock and possible death.

Excessive Swelling

Rattlesnake bites are generally “hemotoxic”. This means that once a rattlesnake bites something, the toxin within the venom will cause disruption to the blood vessels. The disruption of those vessels will cause the body part to swell a considerable amount, and can lead to necrosis.

Swelling from rattlesnake bites tend to be rapid, but can continue for up to 36 hours.

Your Dog May Act Like They’re in Pain

A dog rattlesnake bite is less painful than some other types of snake bites, however is still quite painful. The majority of rattlesnake bites take place on either the head/face, or extremities of your pet. As you know, these bites can cause swelling, and tissue damage from the venom. This will contribute to the discomfort associated with rattlesnake bites.

Weakness or Neurological Abnormalities

Rattlesnake bites, from certain types of rattlesnakes, may also cause changes within the central nervous system. These changes can be seen outwardly as ataxia, paresis, weakness, and paralysis.

How to Respond to a Dog Rattlesnake Bite

The information in this section will give you an idea of what immediate action to take for a dog rattlesnake bite. When you act fast, you’re more likely to save your dog’s life and prevent them from increased suffering.

Leave the Snake Alone

There’s no need to bring the snake or even take a picture of it for your vet. Don’t try to move the snake or otherwise make it leave. You may risk being bitten or causing your dog to be bitten again.

Move Your Dog Away from the Snake Immediately

You may have to pick up your dog and carry them, or you may have to carefully drag them away. Try to remain calm as you determine the best way to move your pet without causing more pain from the bite wound.

Call an Emergency Vet Right Away

Call your vet or an emergency veterinarian immediately! Perform this step as soon as you and your dog are safely away from the snake. The doctors at VEG are around 24/7.

Stay Calm and Explain the Situation

Stay calm as you talk to the veterinarian and explain what happened.

Place your dog in a comfortable position. Keeping the bite wound lower than the heart is a plus, but may be difficult if it is a body wound. When you’ve finished talking to your veterinarian, take your dog to the veterinary hospital right away.

Bring Someone to Help You

Keep in mind that you should bring someone along to help you with your dog in the car if at all possible. This is to monitor the pet while driving to the hospital, or call the veterinarian while one person is already driving.

If no one is with you, we can quickly help get your pet out of the vehicle once you arrive at the hospital.

Long-Term Care for Your Dog’s Rattlesnake Bite

After you’ve taken your dog to the vet for their rattlesnake bite, you will need to keep up with long-term care. Your veterinarian will give you more specific information about what to do for your dog and which treatments are best for them.

This information can help you understand what to expect from your veterinarian.

Antivenom to Prevent Additional Harm

Your veterinarian will likely give your dog antivenin to keep the rattlesnake bite from causing any more harm, and acts to inactivate the snake’s venom.

This injection is best administered within 4 hours after a bite, and is given within fluids. The veterinarian will also do anything required to stabilize your dog and will provide treatment for secondary issues that are common after rattlesnake bites.

Antibiotics to Prevent Infection

From there, the veterinarian will clean the wound generously. The veterinarian may give your dog antibiotics if there is evidence of necrosis or abscess, but this is not always the case.

There may be other treatments your dog needs, such as fluid therapy, blood products, and pain management. Your dog will also need monitoring of blood values and laboratory tests, while your pet is recovering from its rattlesnake bite.

Your veterinarian will let you know for sure depending on the severity of the bite and the reaction in your dog.

Make Sure Your Dog Rests While They Heal

Once you have your dog back home, it’s crucial that they rest for a couple of weeks. Do not exercise them or allow them to over-exert themselves any more than is absolutely necessary. While they may go on short leashed walks to do their business outside, they needs to take it easy otherwise.

Additionally, make sure to follow all recommendations of medications and e-collar wearing laid out by your veterinarian.

Ways to Prevent a Dog Rattlesnake Bite

The best way to deal with a dog rattlesnake bite is to prevent it from happening altogether! Although this may not be completely possible, a little prevention goes a long way.

Keep these tips in mind to prevent future rattlesnake bites.

Keep Your Dog on a Leash

Always walk your dog on-leash. This way, you’ll be able to tell if there’s a danger in the area, such as snakes that may bite them.

Keep Your Dog from Free-Roaming in the Woods

Never let your dog free-roam in the woods, anywhere the grass has grown very high, or sniffing around rocks. These areas are prone to snakes.

Keep an Eye on Your Dog When Outside

If you live in a snake-infested area, make sure your dog is observed even when in the yard just in case.

Call VEG for Dog Rattlesnake Bites

With this information in mind, you should be ready to respond to dog rattlesnake bites. It is crucial to understand the best way to respond if your dog is bitten as well as what you can expect from your veterinarian when you arrive.

The experienced team of veterinarians at VEG are here for you and your dog when they get bitten by a rattlesnake. We’re equipped to handle any emergency situation at all of our VEG locations and are always available for you and your pet when you need us most!