Pet Talk: The Biting Truth of Snake Envenomation

One of the joys of owning a pet is being able to observe their curious nature. However, when they stick their noses where they don’t belong, a dangerous situation can arise, especially in a state like Texas, which is home to more than 75 different species of snakes.

One of the joys of owning a pet is being able to observe their curious nature. However, when they stick their noses where they don’t belong, a dangerous situation can arise, especially in a state like Texas, which is home to more than 75 different species of snakes.

Dr. Dalton Hindmarsh, a veterinary resident at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), advises pet owners on what to do if their furry friend falls victim to a snake bite.

“First, you should keep your pet calm and seek veterinary care,” he said. “Contrary to what you may read on the internet, I would not recommend giving any medications at home, including things like Benadryl, without first consulting your veterinarian. I would also not recommend a tourniquet or trying to suck the venom out.”

Hindmarsh also said that prophylactic antibiotics are typically not prescribed, since the risk of infection from a snake bite is less than 1 percent. Steroid medications or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) pain medications are also not usually involved in treatment of a snake bite, as they have a high risk of side effects and no documented treatment benefit.

Hindmarsh adds that snake bites are very common in dogs and less frequently seen in cats. It’s also important to remember that if a snake is able to harm your pet, they are likely a danger to you as well, so Hindmarsh recommends that owners exercise caution after the bite.

“If the snake is already dead, you can take a picture of it to show veterinary staff,” he said. “Please do not bring the snake with you! If the snake is alive, do not put yourself in danger and leave the area with your pet. “

Once a bitten pet has reached a veterinary care facility, there are a variety of treatment options available.

“The recommended treatment ultimately depends on the severity of the bite, but most cases are treated with IV fluids to address shock, pain medications, and monitoring,” Hindmarsh said. “Antivenom is readily available but is not always indicated for every snake bite.”

Owners should be mindful about preventing their pets from interacting with snakes, especially when in regions where these slithering creatures are more common. In the areas near Texas A&M, copperheads are the most common venomous snake.

“Owners may consider avoidance training (teaching dogs to leave snakes alone) for outdoor and working dogs,” Hindmarsh said. “Keeping pets on a leash may also reduce the chance they encounter a snake.”

If pet owners have concerns about their animal encountering snakes, they should contact their veterinarian to discuss how they can best protect their pet. Owners who suspect that their pet has been bitten should contact their veterinarian immediately.

If you end up seeing a snake the next time you and your pet are enjoying the outdoors, Hindmarsh advises that you “leave the snake alone, back away, and leave the area.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.