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First Coast Veterinary Specialists & Emergency (FCVS)

Venomous Encounters: Snake Bites in Pets

Snake sitting on a branch inside a room

Venomous snake species in Florida

Venomous snake species in Florida include the eastern diamondback, pygmy, and timber rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths, and coral snakes. Here are details about each type:

  • Rattlesnakes — Rattlesnakes are the largest venomous snakes in the United States, and their bites are responsible for 99% of the estimated 300,000 venomous snake bites sustained by pets every year. Rattlesnakes can quickly strike with precision with one-third or more of their body length from a coiled or stretched-out position. Contrary to popular belief, rattlesnakes don’t always rattle before they bite. Rattlesnake venom has neurotoxic (i.e., nerve toxin) and hemotoxic (i.e., blood toxin) effects, with varying toxin levels in different species. The neurotoxins can cause paralysis, while the hemotoxins destroy blood cells and skin tissue, resulting in severe tissue swelling and necrosis and possibly internal bleeding.

  • Copperheads — Copperheads are typically reddish to golden tan, with colored bands on their body that are usually hourglass shaped. Copperheads are typically not aggressive and often employ a warning “dry bite,” in which they don’t release venom. Copperhead venom primarily contains hemotoxins and can lead to pain, swelling, and tissue damage at the bite site.

  • Cottonmouths — Cottonmouths, or water moccasins, are dark tan, brown, or nearly black with vague dark cross bands. They are often found in or around water. Cottonmouth venom is cytotoxic and destroys tissue at the bite site.

  • Coral snakes — Coral snakes have red, yellow or white, and black-colored bands. They spend most of their time underground or hiding in leaf litter and typically come out only when it rains or during breeding season. Coral snakes have potent venom that contains neurotoxins, which can cause paralysis and respiratory failure.

Snake bite signs in pets

Snake bites can be difficult to detect, since the fangs usually leave only small puncture wounds that may be hidden by your pet’s coat. Signs depend on the type of snake that bit your pet, but can include:

  • Collapse followed by apparent recovery

  • Lethargy

  • Muscle tremors and shaking

  • Dilated pupils

  • Sudden incoordination

  • Compete paralysis

  • Loss of bladder or bowel control

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Unexplained bleeding from the nose, mouth, or bite site

  • Discolored, dark or bloody urine

What to do—and not to do—if a snake bites your pet

If you observe a snake bite your pet, attempt to get a picture of the snake to help with identification, but don’t put yourself in danger to get the shot. Other recommendations include:

  • Stay calm — Don’t panic. It’s important to remain calm, so you can get your pet the help they need.

  • Remove the collar — If the bite wound is on the face or neck, remove your pet’s collar, since the area may swell.

  • Restrict movement — Keep your pet as still as possible to help prevent venom circulation.

  • Don’t attempt to suck out the venom — Sucking on the bite site doesn’t remove, and may concentrate, the venom.

  • Don’t medicate your pet — Some people believe administering an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, is effective in treating snake bites, but histamines are not a major snake venom component.

  • Seek immediate veterinary care — Take your pet to an emergency veterinary hospital as quickly as possible. Phone ahead to let them know you are coming with your pet who was bitten by a venomous snake.

Snake bite treatment in pets

Treatment depends on the type of snake that bit your pet, but may include:

  • Antivenom — Rattlesnake and coral snake bites are usually treated with the appropriate antivenom, which is a serum that contains antibodies to neutralize the venom’s effects. Antivenom is also needed in some cases of cottonmouth bites.

  • Pain medications — Snake bites can be extremely painful, and strong pain medications are usually needed to alleviate your pet’s discomfort.

  • Fluid therapy — In some cases, fluid therapy may be necessary to counteract shock or hypotension.

  • Oxygen supplementation — If your pet is in respiratory distress, they will need oxygen supplementation.

  • Wound management — The bite site will be cleaned and treated appropriately.

Snake bite prevention in pets

Not all snake bites can be prevented, but you can take steps to lower your pet’s risk, including:

  • Avoiding snakes if you see them when out walking.

  • Keeping your pet on a leash and not allowing them to burrow into holes.

  • Enrolling your pet in rattlesnake aversion training, so they can recognize the snake’s scent, sound, and sight, and avoid them.

Our First Coast Veterinary Specialists and Emergency team is here for you 24/7, so give us a call immediately if your pet has an encounter with a venomous snake.