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Dog Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook

Natural Family Friendly Snake Repellent


If your dog is bitten by a snake, there may be no cause for concern, as the majority of snakes are nonpoisonous. The bites of harmless snakes show teeth marks in the shape of a horseshoe, but there are no fang marks.

In the United States, there are four poisonous varieties: Cottonmouth moccasins, rattlesnakes, copperheads and coral snakes. The diagnosis of poisonous snake bite is made by the appearance of the bite, by the behavior of the animal and by identification of the species of snake. (Kill it first, if possible.)

Pit Vipers (Rattlesnakes/Moccasins/Copperheads)

Identify these species by their large arrow-shaped heads, pits below and between the eyes, elliptical pupils, rough scales and the presence of fangs in the upper jaws.

The bite: There are two puncture wounds in the skin (fang marks). Signs of local reaction appear quickly and include swelling, excruciating pain, redness and hemorrhages in the skin.

Behavior of the animal: Signs and symptoms depend on the size and species of the snake, location of the bite and amount of toxin absorbed into the system. The first signs are extreme restlessness, panting, drooling and weakness. They are followed by diarrhea, collapse, sometimes seizures, shock and. in severe cases, death.

Except for the coral snake, all poisonous species in North America are pit vipers. Note the elliptical pupil, pit below the eye, large tangs and characteristic bite.

Coral Snake

Identify this snake by its rather small size, small head with black nose and vivid colored bands of red, yellow, white and black-the red and yellow bands always next to each other. Fangs are present in the upper jaw.

The bite: There is less severe local reaction but the pain is excruciating. Look for the fang marks.

Behavior of the animal: Coral snake venom primarily is neurotoxic. Signs include vomiting, diarrhea, urinary incontinence, paralysis, convulsions and coma.

Treatment of All Bites: First identify the snake and look at the bite. If it appears your dog has been bitten by a poisonous snake, proceed as follows:

1. Restrain the dog. Snake bites are extremely painful.

2. Apply a flat tourniquet above the bite. It should not be as tight as an arterial tourniquet (see Wounds) but should be tight enough to keep venous blood from returning to the heart.

3. Using a knife or razor blade, make parallel cuts one-quarter inch deep through the fang marks. On a leg, make them up and down. Blood should ooze from the wound. If not, loosen the tourniquet.

4.* Apply mouth suction unless you have a cut or open sore in your mouth. Spit out the blood. If poison is swallowed, the stomach will inactivate it. Continue for thirty minutes.


(*Cutting a snake bite is no longer the recommended practice for treating poisonous snake bites)

5. Loosen the tourniquet for thirty seconds every half hour.

6. Keep the dog quiet. Excitement, exercise and struggling increase the rate of absorption. Carry your dog to the veterinarian.

Specific antivenoms are available through veterinarians. Snake bites become infected. Antibiotics and dressings are indicated.


© Copyright 1998, Macmillan Publishing. All rights reserved.

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