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How to Protect Your Dog from Venomous Snakes

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Overview

Published: 10/7/2021

Snakes can be a tempting plaything for dogs with a high prey drive. Snakes slither and make noise and can be quite interesting to a curious doggo. Unfortunately, some snakes in the US are venomous, and these species can be difficult to differentiate from harmless snakes.

If your dog is the outdoorsy type, it might be a good idea to put some protective measures in place to keep them safe from venomous snakes. We’ll explore ways to protect your pets (and yourself!) from slithering critters, as well as ways to identify venomous species.


How to protect your dog from venomous snakes

Below are a few ways you can protect Fido from venomous snakes and make your surroundings less accommodating to snakes.


Keep Fido on a short leash

Keeping your fur-baby on a short leash is one of the most effective ways to prevent them from exploring areas where snakes may be hiding. Having your pet on a short leash will allow you to control where they go and keep them from chasing critters. Don’t allow your pet to explore areas with high grass or sniff under rocks since snakes tend to gravitate towards these areas.

Keep in mind that some dogs can sense snakes, so if your pup seems standoffish about a particular area, you might not want to investigate. Here’s a handy guide on training your dog to stay away from snakes.


Maintain your yard

As we mentioned above, snakes love areas with high grass since it camouflages them and offers protection from predators. Keeping your grass short will eliminate this cover and make snakes less likely to slither across your lawn.


Eliminate hiding spots around your yard

Snakes are attracted to dark areas that go undisturbed, like under landscaping rocks, woodpiles, or yard “junk.” Getting rid of these snake havens will make snakes less likely to stay around your home.


Build a snake barrier

Placing a mesh barrier around your home can help prevent snakes from encroaching on your pet’s territory. Snake barriers should extend about a foot underground and stand at least 36 inches high to ensure snakes can't slither under or over them. Snake barriers may not be effective against smaller venomous snakes.


Remove food and water sources

Food and water can lure snakes onto your property as well — this includes unintentional water sources like mud puddles and food sources like birdseed and pet food. While snakes won’t eat bird and pet food, they can attract rodents and other natural prey of snakes. Getting rid of water sources and natural prey should encourage snakes to migrate to other areas.


Use natural repellents

Chemical snake repellents, though effective, can be poisonous to fur-babies and humans. For this reason, spraying ammonia around the exterior of your house may be a better solution. Some pet parents also find success in spraying vinegar or sprinkling cinnamon around their house to ward off snakes.




Types of venomous snakes native to the US

Knowing how to identify venomous snakes is key to protecting your dog from them. Likewise, it's important that pet parents know where venomous snakes like to live and proper treatment protocol for a snake bite.


Water moccasins

Water moccasins (or cottonmouths as they’re also known) are a species of venomous pit vipers found in water and on land. When threatened, this species will often display the inside of its mouth, revealing a bright white interior.

The water moccasin has been labeled as aggressive, though these snakes rarely bite when left alone. Most water moccasin attacks are a result of being handled or accidentally stepped on.

Native habitat

Water moccasins are prevalent in the southeastern US, but especially in Florida. Sightings of water moccasins have occurred as far west as Texas and as far north as Illinois and Indiana. This species is semiaquatic, meaning they hunt both in water and on land, and are common in warm aquatic habitats, from estuaries to drainage ditches.

How to identify a water moccasin

Water moccasins range from 10 inches to 6 feet long and tend to have thicker heads and bodies than other water snakes.

Identifying a water moccasin can be tricky since there are 3 subspecies and numerous patterns and colors. Patterns and colors vary widely even within a particular subspecies, and interbreeding can further complicate identification.

Possible colors of water moccasins include:

  • brown

  • black

  • olive

  • grayish brown

  • reddish-brown

  • yellow

The underbelly of these snakes are light in color and often have dark spots.

Young cottonmouths are lighter in color than their mature counterparts and display a yellow or greenish tip on their tails. Young moccasins also have banded markings along their body.

As water moccasins age, their scale color darkens, and their markings may become indistinguishable from the rest of their body. The two most distinctive features of a water moccasin are its cat-like pupils and vibrant white mouths.

Signs of a water moccasin bite

Water moccasin bite severity

Since water moccasin venom is a hemotoxin, bites from these creatures are considered a medical emergency. Dogs can experience problems with blood clotting, tissue death, gangrene, and organ failure without prompt treatment.

Treatment and prognosis

Vets will typically administer fluids and antivenom to bite victims. Amputation may be necessary depending on the severity, bite location, and the length of time between the bite and treatment. Dogs have a good chance of survival with immediate veterinary care. With appropriate care, dogs can recover from a water moccasin bite in a matter of days. 

The average cost of vet treatment

The average cost of treatment for a water moccasin bite in dogs is $3,000 to $10,000.


Copperheads

Copperheads are a vibrantly colored venomous snake native to North America. Copperhead sightings are very common in the US, and this species bites more people in the US than any other venomous snake.

Like most other pit vipers, copperheads typically try to avoid conflict by displaying threatening behaviors. These snakes will curl up, vibrate their tail, and lift their head to ward off potential threats.

Native habitat

Copperheads are a hardy species that can thrive in various habitats, from mountains to deserts and even developed areas. Species of copperheads have been spotted as far north as Massachusetts and as far south as Mexico. Copperheads are attracted to areas with good cover and often conceal themselves under large stones, wood piles, and debris.

How to identify a copperhead

Copperhead snakes are one of the most distinguishable venomous snakes in the US. They range in color from light brown to orange or a coppery red.

A copperhead’s eyes are light yellow or orange with a cat-like pupil. The bands on the copperhead are light brown with a dark brown outline and resemble a sideways hourglass. The head of a copperhead is triangular and looks much like a spade.

This snake is on the smaller side, averaging 2 to 3 feet in length at maturity, though copperheads can sometimes reach up to 4 feet long.

Signs of a copperhead bite

  • fang marks

  • bleeding from the bite site

  • excessive salivation

  • partial or complete paralysis

  • convulsions

  • nausea and diarrhea

  • collapse

Copperhead bite severity

Like water moccasins (and other pit vipers), copperhead venom is a hemotoxin that can cause blood cells to rupture. What’s more, copperhead bites can cause permanent tissue damage to the area surrounding the bite site.

While copperhead bites are rarely deadly to humans, they can kill small dogs — this is why immediate treatment is crucial.

Treatment and prognosis

Keeping your pet calm is essential when dealing with a copperhead bite. The more worked up your pet gets, the faster their blood will pump and the quicker the venom will spread. For bites located on the limbs, you can create a tourniquet to reduce the flow of venom and help you buy time on the way to the vet.

Many vet clinics don't offer snake antivenom, so pet parents may waste valuable time trying to find a clinic that offers the necessary treatment.

Depending on the vet and antivenom availability, vets may administer a pit viper antivenom called Crofab. Crofab is a type of antibody therapy that has proven successful for the treatment of copperhead bites. Vets must administer antivenom treatment 12 to 24 hours after envenomation to be successful.

Additional drugs like steroids, antihistamines, pain killers, and antibiotics may also be necessary. Prompt treatment is essential for a good prognosis when dealing with copperhead bites.

The average cost of vet treatment

The treatment cost for a copperhead bite ranges between $3,000 to $10,000 and depends on the veterinarian and course of treatment.  


Coral snakes

Coral snakes are a species of venomous snake prevalent in North America and Asia. This species belongs to the Elapidae family and is a relative of the mamba.

Unlike other venomous snakes in the US, whose fangs are hollow and connect to venom sacks, the coral snake has small fangs that are completely separate from their venom sacks. When the coral snake bites, the venom pouches beside the fangs ooze into the bite wound.

Native habitat

Coral snakes are common in the Southeast and Southwest. The Western coral snake mainly resides in the deserts of Arizona and northern Mexico.

On the other hand, the Eastern coral snake has a much more extensive range spanning from the North Carolina coast south to Florida and West to Louisiana.

Coral snakes thrive in forested ecosystems with good ground cover and nearby water sources or seasonal flooding. Sightings of these snakes are rare since they seek shelter underground or under leaves during the day and usually only emerge to hunt at night.

How to identify a coral snake

Coral snakes are smaller than other species of venomous snakes that are native to America. They average about 2 feet in length at adulthood but can be as thin as a pencil.

Coral snakes have distinct black, yellow, and red banding, though this coloration can cause a case of misidentification. The harmless scarlet kingsnake has identical colors and similar markings. The difference between these two snakes is the coral snake has yellow banding always borders the red stripes. A handy rhyme to remember this is, “Red touches yellow, kills a fellow; red touches black, safe for Jack.”

Signs of a coral snake bite

  • rapid or shallow breathing

  • loss of body control

  • drooling

  • inability to vocalize

  • confusion

  • abnormal behavior

  • muscle tremors or twitching

Coral snake bite severity

Coral snake bite poisoning is very serious, especially if the dog is small and received multiple bites or a high dose of venom. Unlike pit viper venom, coral snake venom is a neurotoxin, meaning it destroys the nerve tissue.

Dogs rarely experience pain at the bite site, and symptom onset can take several hours; because of this, pet parents may delay treatment, unaware that a coral snake bit their fur-baby.

Generally, the first indications of envenomation are behavioral changes or confusion due to the venom’s effects on a dog’s brain function. Twitching and muscle weakness may follow.

Venom from coral snake bites can also destroy red blood cells and cause a dog’s body to excrete large amounts of free hemoglobin, both of which can be extremely dangerous for dogs. Eventually, the venom’s neurotoxic effects can lead to paralysis and respiratory arrest.

Treatment and prognosis

The prognosis for coral snake bites depends on how soon dogs receive treatment. If the bite is on an extremity, you may apply a compression bandage above the bite site to minimize the flow of venom through the bloodstream.

Unfortunately, the US no longer has an FDA-approved coral snake antivenom. Vets will typically offer supportive care to envenomed dogs, administering anticonvulsants, fluids, and mechanical ventilation if necessary.

The average cost of vet treatment

Treatment for a coral snake bite can be quite costly, ranging from $1,500 to $13,000.


Rattlesnake

The rattlesnake is a species of pit viper that is distinguishable by the keratin rattle at the end of the tail. Experts estimate that there are between 32 and 45 different rattlesnakes in North America.

The media portrays rattlesnakes as aggressive creatures, but they typically only bite as a last resort. Rattlesnakes will hiss, rattle their tail, and raise up to ward off animals they find threatening.

Native habitat

Rattlesnakes have evolved to survive in a variety of ecosystems and climates. Rattler subspecies thrive in southwestern desert climates, southeastern marshland, and mountainous regions.

When rattlesnakes aren’t hunting or sunning, they spend most of their time in their dens. Like most other pit vipers, rattlesnakes often hide under rocks, in brush, wood piles, and plant matter. Rattlesnakes may come out at night or during the day, depending on the temperature.

How to identify a rattlesnake

The appearance of a rattlesnake depends on its age and subspecies. For instance, baby rattlers are just a few inches long but can grow up to 8 feet.

Rattlesnakes typically have wider bodies than other snakes and are easily recognizable by their triangular head and deep facial pits. Like other pit vipers, rattlesnakes have vertical slits for pupils.

While the telltale rattle is an excellent indicator of snake species, it’s important to mention that snakes can lose their rattle, so this distinguishing feature might not always be evident. What’s more, baby rattlesnakes are born with a “button” rather than a fully developed rattle.

Signs of a rattlesnake bite

  • fang marks

  • bleeding from the bite mark

  • rapid swelling of the bite site

  • muscle weakness

  • loss of coordination

  • paralysis

Rattlesnake bite severity

Human fatalities from rattlesnake bites are rare, especially with prompt treatment, but a rattlesnake bite can easily kill a dog. It’s crucial that dogs receive antivenom within 4 hours of the bite. However, dogs that receive antivenom within a half-hour of the bite have a better chance of survival.

Treatment and prognosis

80% of dogs who receive immediate treatment for rattlesnake bites will survive. Treatment protocol for rattlesnake bite poisoning typically includes antivenom, wound cleaning, IV fluids, pain relievers, and antibiotics.

The average cost of vet treatment

The average treatment cost for rattlesnake bites in dogs ranges from $3,000 to $10,000, depending on the treatment necessary.


Recap

As you can see, snakes are a serious threat to canines, especially in the southern region of the United States. Making your yard less accommodating to snakes and training your dog to avoid critters can go a long way in preventing snake bites to your fur-baby. Educating yourself on the identifying features and habits of snakes native to your area can also help to avoid the venomous ones. Remember an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Snake poisoning in dogs can be expensive to treat. If your dog is at risk of being poisoned by a snake, start searching for pet insurance today. Brought to you by Pet Insurer, Wag! Wellness lets pet parents compare insurance plans from leading companies like PetPlan and Trupanion. Find the “pawfect” plan for your pet in just a few clicks!

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