Venomous Snake Bites and What to do if your Dog Gets Bitten

Where I live in Northern California, Spring and Summer is synonymous with baby rattlesnakes.  We have many nature trails to walk our dogs in my town and I’ve seen snakes sunning themselves on the trails many times.  Let me tell you, they put the fear of God in you!

This information was obtained in my Dog First Aid booklet from the American Red Cross.  All responsible dog and cat owners should take a class at least every other year.  If you don’t have a Red Cross Chapter near you, you can take classes from independent sources like  Pet First Aid kits should also be a must in your home. has a list to make your own or you can purchase one from are good sources for kits.

Venomous Snakes in the United States Pit Vipers

Rattlesnakes: Rattlesnakes come in 16 distinct varieties, but they are most identified with a jointed rattle on the tail and a triangular head.  They usually get up to 3-4 feet in length, sometimes longer.  Most are found in the Southwestern US, but some variety can be found in every contiguous state.

Copperheads: Copperheads do not have a rattle and are about 4 feet long in adulthood.  They are most characterized by their deep coppery orange color on their heads.  Also known as a Highland Moccasin and found mainly in the Eastern US.

Cottonmouths: Cottonmouths or Water Moccasins are about 4 feet in length with a dark body and the inside of their mouth is bright white.  They are found by rivers, wetlands and lakes usually in South Carolina.

Coral Snakes: Coral Snakes are known for their colorful banding of red, yellow and black and can be found in the Southern and Eastern US.  They grow up to 3 feet in length.  Remember, if red touches yellow, you’re a dead fellow  meaning if the red and yellow bands touch on the Coral Snake it’s the real deal and is venomous.

What to do to avoid a snake bite

Keep your dog on a leash when walking outside or away from your home.

Don’t let them wander off into high brush and grass.

If you’re in a high risk area, bring a walking stick with you to stir up the brush and let the snakes know your coming and wear high boots.

If appropriate, enroll your dog in a Rattlesnake Avoidance Classes that can be taught from local dog trainers.

If you see a snake on your walk, just turn around and go the other way.  That happened to me and I didn’t care how far out of the way it took me.  It scared the life out of me to be honest!

Keep them away from streams and riverbeds.  Snakes like to hide in the tall grasses along the water.

Know where your nearest emergency Vet clinic is in your area.

Get a Snake Vaccine from your local vet if necessary.

Signs and Symptoms according to The American Red Cross

Bleeding puncture wound

Blood does not clot

Breathing stops

Bruising or sloughing of the skin over the bitten area

Fang marks may or may not be visible, due to the dogs hair

Neurological signs such as twitching and drooling



Signs of Shock

Swelling of the bitten area.  This can be severe and progress for more than a day.

What to do if your dog is bitten

If you can, try to identify the snake type, but be aware that the venom can still be lethal for up to 1 1/2 hours even if the snake has been decapitated.

Perform pet CPR and check the dog’s vital signs.  You will learn this in your First Aid for Dogs class.

Keep the dog calm and carry them, if possible, home and to your car.  The toxins spread faster throughout their body when they are moving.

DO NOT try to suck the venom out of the wound.  DO NOT use ice on the area and DO NOT us a tourniquet.

Take your dog immediately to the Vet or Emergency Vet Clinic as time is of the essence.

Lola R. Steele

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