Help! My dog was bitten by a snake!

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So you and your beloved pooch are out for some fresh air and sunshine, trotting along a trail in the great outdoors. The dog is a few paces ahead (of course), and is busy smelling everything in sight.

Suddenly you hear a yelp of pain and surprise. You run to catch up with your pet and see the tail of a snake slithering into the brush. What should you do?

If you’re anything like me, the first thing you’ll do is start freaking out and shouting, thinking that your dog is about to die a painful death. Well hold on there, tiger. Settle down.

The fact is, most snakes in the U.S. are not poisonous. There are only four varieties, including rattlesnakes, cottonmouth moccasins, copperheads and coral snakes, that are venomous and pose an immediate threat to the dog. There are three ways to tell if the dog is in danger:

  • Identify the snake—if you’re not a herpetologist (that’s a snake expert) you might need some help here. Catch and kill it if possible so you can bring it to the vet’s office for identification. If not, you should at least be prepared with a good description of it. Does it have identifying colors or patterns? A large, arrow-like shape to the head? Elliptical pupils (like a cat’s) or round ones?
  • Check out the bite—poisonous snakes, which have fangs, will leave two prominent puncture marks, just like a vampire in a horror movie. The skin will react quickly with swelling, redness, and intense pain. Non-poisonous snakes have even rows of teeth and may leave a pattern that resembles a horseshoe.
  • Watch the dog—they may exhibit symptoms such as panting, drooling and weakness. They might become extremely restless. Later, the dog could have other symptoms such as diarrhea, or they might collapse. Sometimes they will have seizures.
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If you believe your pet has been bitten by a poisonous snake, try to keep them calm. Frantic movement or exercise will rush the poison through the dog’s system. Call your veterinarian immediately, they may be able to talk you through procedures for drawing out some of the venom and applying a tourniquet. Get your pet to a facility where they can get medical treatment ASAP.

Even if your dog was bitten by a common garden snake, you’ll want to have them treated; without the right antibiotics and treatment, the bite wound can become infected, so even non-venomous bites can be dangerous.

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