Snake Bites in Dogs

Veterinarians across the nation collectively treat thousands of rattlesnake bites each year.
Because domestic dogs are not born with the understanding that rattlesnakes are dangerous,
when they encounter one in the wild or within their yard they are more than happy to
investigate it. Rarely does a dog encounter a rattlesnake and simply leave it alone. Most (99%)
willingly attempt to sniff it which then leads to playing with it or attacking it. Either way, 
burying their nose right into the business end of the rattlesnake is going to end up bad for the
dog. The terrified snake, which is a fraction of the dog’s size, is then forced to strike and
inject its venom. 

Rattlesnakes harbor potent venom that contain a varying mixture of protiens and
enzymes with hemotoxic and sometimes neurotoxic properties. They are designed to take
down small prey animals within seconds of striking, as well as begin the digestive process
early. At the injection site these compounds take immediate effect within the surrounding
tissue and bloodstream. Even for very large animals, just a few milliliters of snake venom can
be devastating.

For a dog, the effects are no different. In addition to the stinging punctures of both fangs,
the venom spreads through the bloodstream as the dog’s immune system begins to fight it.
The result is the lymphatic system kicks into overdrive and the site of the bite swells
dramatically. I don’t say “dramatically” lightly; within a few minutes the dog’s face can swell
to twice its normal size. See the picture of "Cospiere" below, "Brody" and "Chewy" right, 
and feel free to search google images for “dog rattlesnake bite” to see what I mean!

With the pain and swelling comes the possibility of asphyxiation, and the venom causes lots
of necrotic tissue damage (often permanent that will leave internal and/or external scaring)
all while being very prone to infection. Not to mention that the entire experience can be
completely traumatic for the confused dog! I've heard several reports from owners of dogs
fortunate enough to survive a snake bite in the past and that "they were never the same dog
again".

Crazy, right? And it’s even worse if a human gets bit! And it doesn’t stop there…

Because of the fast, intense side effects of a snake bite, dog owners must act quickly if they want to ensure the highest likelihood of their dog surviving. A few minutes can be the difference between life and death, or losing a limb. TIME IS TISSUE! Assuming the dog owner can get the dog to a veterinarian quickly, here’s what happens next…

So many factors come into play regarding the treatment of the dog at a veterinary hospital. Factors include the size and health of the dog, location of the bite, how much venom was actually injected, how the individual dog is responding, how much time has elapsed since the bite, the best judgement of the vet, your budget, etc. More than likely, the dog is going to require rattlesnake antivenin. This is a serum derived from other “immune” animals and injected into the dog to neutralize the venom. It works, but at a price. Just one vial of this stuff for pets can cost around $500, and most dogs require more than one vial. Consider everything this emergency entails now... administration of this antivenin (1-2+ full vials), the emergency visit, pain medications, fluids, antibiotics, blood tests, overnight stay, etc - now you can see why the vet bills add up so quickly! And it’s certainly not the vet office trying to rip you off. (The antivenin costs a lot of money because of the complicated process to make it, and it has a short shelf life). This is why the average vet bill for a rattlesnake bite is around $1,000 or more. It is not at all uncommon for the bill to reach several thousand dollars either. Additionally, there's still no guarantee that your dog will make it after all that.

The good news is that there is a WAY cheaper, much less traumatic option - a training designed to prevent this event from occurring in the first place. Most rattlesnake bites are totally preventable. After all, snakes don’t want to bite a dog and waste their venom. It’s a GOOD thing that they have a noisy rattle! They seem to prefer to give a warning first and then strike as a last resort if necessary. Most dogs get bit not because of stepping on one accidentally or anything like that (though this is possible). Instead, the majority of bites come from a dog that unknowingly stumbled near a snake and the snake warned the dog to stay away, but the dog was so curious it approached the snake just as it would approach anything else new, small, and exciting. Don’t let your dog’s innocence make them a victim, teach them the danger through rattlesnake aversion training. Click here to learn more about the available training from Rattlesnake Ready, LLC.
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Cospiere Australian Shepherd Aussie
"Cospiere" is an Australian Shepherd who encountered a rattlesnake and innocently approached it as most dogs do. He was bitten on the nose (see pics above) but was fortunate enough to survive. Compare the pics above to how he normally looks! He has since been trained to avoid rattlesnakes. Being born deaf, he would be unaware of the snake's sounds. Since the training covers both visual and smell too, he learned the lesson and has been avoiding snakes since 2013 when he was originally trained. Bite photos - courtesy of C. Scalera.