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Prepare to respond if dogs encounter snakes
By Karen Templeton
MSU Ag Communications
MISSISSIPPI STATE – Many pet dogs encounter venomous snakes during the hot summer months, but tragic consequences can be avoided when owners know what to do when their dogs get bitten.
“More dogs and snakes are out in warmer summer months, creating a situation where they will encounter each other,” said Dr. Kari Lunsford, assistant professor with Mississippi State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. “Dogs, curious by nature, agitate snakes and can end up getting bitten.”
Lunsford said pet owners need to take these situations seriously.
“Any snake bite needs to be treated as a life-threatening emergency,” she said. “Puncture wounds may be hard to find, but swelling is obvious and should be treated as a possible snake bite.”
The snakes of most concern are rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and copperheads, but pet owners may not be able to recognize the snake that bit their animal. The best solution is to be overly cautious and take the bitten dog to the veterinarian.
“Owners should keep the dog immobile and calm during the trip to the vet. Snake bites are very painful for dogs, and they will be easily agitated and could react quickly and bite, so use caution,” Lunsford said. “When owners stay calm, it is more likely that the dog will follow suit.”
If this situation occurs during hours that veterinarians’ offices are closed, dog owners should get their pet to an emergency veterinary clinic, Lunsford said. Most local veterinarians leave information regarding the closest emergency clinic on their voice mail.
“Knowing what to do is simple: just get your pet medical care as quickly as possible,” Lunsford said. “But it is also extremely important to know what not to do in these situations.”
Lunsford listed guidelines on what owners should not do:
- Do not try to capture or kill the snake. Doing so puts people at risk for getting bitten themselves. Veterinarians do not want venomous snakes brought to their practices.
- Do not use a tourniquet or apply ice to the wound. Both of these practices can restrict blood flow and cause more tissue damage.
- Do not use a snake bite kit or try to suck the venom out of the bite. This could introduce bacteria and cause a more severe infection.
The key is leaving the medical work to the veterinarians.
“Snake bites need to be handled on a case-by-case basis, because some can be much more serious than others. Venom can cause problems such as blood clotting, organ damage and shock,” Lunsford said. “A veterinarian will do appropriate testing to see if those risks exist and can provide the appropriate treatment. Most life-threatening conditions in these situations are things that are not immediately apparent, so dogs may have to stay in a vet’s care for a few days.”
There are also measures dog owners can take to help prevent pets from getting bitten by venomous snakes.
“People should monitor their dogs while they are outdoors, use a leash when they are walking and stick to trails during hikes,” Lunsford said. “Dogs that roam without supervision are more likely to have dangerous encounters with wildlife.”
Venomous snakes have involuntary nerve firing after death, and they have been known to bite even after they are dead. Lunsford advised owners to keep dogs away from dead snakes.
Bronson Strickland, assistant MSU Extension professor in the Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture, said homeowners can make their yards less attractive to snakes and their prey.
“Get rid of the places snakes can hide out, such as brushy fence rows, weedy growth, and wood and brick piles,” he said. “Firewood should be stored on a rack at least 12 inches from the ground as snakes will generally not seek shelter in piles that are separated from the soil.”
Strickland suggested that homeowners keep their lawn mowed short to help minimize hiding places for snakes. He also said to put food sources for rodents, such as pet food, in tightly closed containers to keep out rodents and the snakes that feed on them.
Prevention and quick treatment can go a long way in avoiding a serious outcome.
“The good news is that when proper veterinary care is provided after a snake bite, most dogs survive,” Lunsford said.
Contact: Dr. Kari Lunsford, (662) 325-3432