If you love hiking or camping with your dog in the great outdoors, consider learning how to protect your dog from venomous snake bites. With over 700 species of venomous snakes worldwide, virtually every place on earth plays host to the cold blooded hunters. Though snakes will shy away from a potential threat, saving their venom for hunting food, they will attack if they feel threatened.
Dogs are most often bitten by venous snakes when walking or running over rough, rocky terrain or through wild vegetation, where snakes lay concealed. There are steps you can take to protect your dog from venous snake bites both through training and medical preparation.
Snake Avoidance Training for Dogs
The best way to protect your dog from venomous snake bites is to avoid them altogether. Since most snake bite instances occur off the trail, train your dog to stay with you while you are walking in the wild. By sticking to the trail and staying close to you, your dog will remain within your protective care. You can call him back if you see a snake up ahead on the trail. Your dog will also avoid the danger of overturning rock mounds along the edge of the trail if you keep him close.
Snake avoidance training for dogs should go a step further. Often snakes can be seen sunning in the open. A dog may mistake a snake for a toy. You must train your dog to “leave it”. Your dog must not only leave the snake alone but return to your side as part of the training process.
Knew the Venomous Snakes in Your Area
Different parts of the globe play host to a range of venomous snakes. Rattle snakes, coral snakes, copperheads and cottonmouths are most common in North America, but each snake resides in a different climate. Knowing which venomous snakes live in your area will provide you with key information for protecting your dog from venomous snake bites.
Search the internet for a description of the habits of venomous snakes in your area. Learn whether your dog is likely to encounter snakes near water, under rocks, in the underbrush. In addition, learn about the venom of each snake as not all are equally lethal. Rattlesnake venom, for example, is hemotoxic, so that the venom breaks down tissue to help the snake digest its food. Consequently, snake bites from rattlesnakes are accompanied by severe swelling and anti-clotting properties that can lead to extreme loss of blood.
Protect Your Dog in His Own Backyard
If you live in area prone to venomous snakes, enclose your yard against snakes to protect your dog in his home environment. Ordinary wood fences are insufficient. Make sure you create an enclosure around the perimeter of the yard at least 3 feet tall and made from a metal mesh, like chicken wire. Some venomous snakes, like the Cottonmouth that lives in urban creeks, pose a danger to your dog well within the perimeters of the city.
Save Your Dog from a Venomous Snake Bite
Once a dog is bitten by a venomous snake there are a few factors that affect his chances of survival. First and obviously, someone must see the dog getting bitten. Second, if your dog was bitten in his chest, his risk is far higher than if he was bitten in his paw. Proximity to the heart increase risk of bleeding and irrevocable tissue damage due to a venomous snake bite.
In addition, the time between the snake bite and treatment is critical. Antivenom, used to treat snake bites in dogs, is created in cattle or pigs by injecting the animals with a tiny amount of venom. Antibodies are then produced to fight the venom, and it is these antibodies that are harvested to make antivenom. Such medications are extremely expensive and, therefore, not always stocked at veterinary clinics.
Find out which veterinary hospital in your area stocks antivenom and is open 24 hours. Take your cell phone with you on all hikes with your dog and be sure you have the emergency vet number stored in your phone or on a piece of paper. As soon as your dog receives a snake bite, rush him to your car and drive to the hospital. Give the vet a call to notify of your coming and to ensure that the antivenom is still in stock. Every minute counts when you are saving your dog from a venomous snake bite.
Antivenom Emergency Kits
Though antivenom emergency kits are available for purchase by dog owners, most veterinarians do not recommend them. For one thing, antivenom is snake-specific; you must carry the right antivenom for the specific snake. Second, antivenom is very expensive and has a limited shelf life. Finally, snake antivenom must be administered correctly depending on the location of the snake bite.
Prevention of snake bites in the first place is likely to be the most effective tool you have in protecting your dog from snake bites. Avoid walking late in the evening when snakes are hunting for food. Train your dog to remain with you or keep him on a leash. And have the emergency number of a pet emergency hospital that carries a host of snake antivenoms. Be ready to describe the snake that bit your dog if you are unable to identify it yourself. The vet will need this information to save your dog’s life.
1. The Pet Center: “Snake Bites and Dogs”
2. Natural Dog magazine: Nature’s nasty Side by Peter Barnes. Vol 41, No 8, Aug 2010, pp 32-38.
3. Wikipedia: “Snake”