On Gardening: A quick reaction to snake bites saves pet’s life
by Shane Harris
Special to The Star
May 12, 2013 | 7568 views |  0 comments | 79 79 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The topic of this column, like many of my columns, is based on personal experience. But this time, the topic was a little too close for comfort.

One day last month, my wife Susan called to tell me that our dog Aubie was acting strange and tired. Since Aubie likes to roam the woods and swim in the creek near our house, it’s normal for him to just want to rest when he comes home. However, Susan soon called me back to say that Aubie’s neck and ear were enormously swollen. Come to find out, our dog had been bitten by a poisonous snake.

Thankfully Aubie survived due to a quick response to get him help and the excellent care and treatment of his veterinarian. Snakes are on the move this time of year, so take caution. If you are a pet owner, pay close attention for symptoms of a snake bite and make sure you know what to do if your pet is bitten.

Act quickly

First, treat any snake bite as a life-threatening emergency. Ignore any tales you might have heard that dogs are immune to poisonous snake bites — they are not. And they will die if not given proper veterinarian care.

Don’t worry so much about whether it was a rattlesnake, copperhead or cottonmouth. Identification is nice but unnecessary. We never saw the snake that bit Aubie. If you do see the snake, do not touch it or try to take it with you to the vet.


A local veterinarian said dogs and cats that receive a snake bite will exhibit rapid swelling, usually three times normal size, at and around the bite site. For comparison, this would be much smaller than swelling from a bee or insect sting. Surprisingly, puncture marks from a snake fang are not always noticeable. Aubie, it turns out, was bitten multiple times — he showed swelling all around his neck, and his ear was completely swollen.

Behavior changes

A bitten dog or cat will likely be lethargic or sluggish, won’t eat or drink, and may shake or go into shock. They may show signs of pain, and the area around the bite will likely be sensitive to touch. You should also check for dry gums.

If your dog or cat exhibits the above symptoms, or if you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake, contact your veterinarian immediately. The chances of survival are much greater with a quick response.

Experts advise pet owners to remain calm. By doing so, the pet is more likely to stay calm as well. Keep the animal immobile during the trip to the vet. The experience can be quite traumatic and painful, so take caution as agitated pets may bite.


One way to protect pets is to stop bites before they occur. Always monitor pets outdoors, use a leash during walks and stick to well-traveled trails.

Pets that roam free without supervision are more likely to encounter dangerous situations, including encounters with snakes and other wildlife.

Modify the habitat around the home and any place where pets are likely to spend time so that the environment is not hospitable for snakes to feed and hide.

Aubie has made a full recovery from his snake bite. He was very lucky.

Take steps to keep your pet and other family members safe. Be alert and always be on the lookout because when it comes to snake encounters, it’s not a matter of if, but when.

For help on other home and garden questions, contact your local county Extension office or visit us online at www.aces.edu.

Shane Harris is an Extension Agent for the Alabama Cooperative Extension System.

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