Without actually witnessing a snake bite your dog, or finding yourself face to face with the immediate aftermath it is often difficult for the untrained eye to recognise such an encounter has occurred. This is why it is increasingly important to take note of the signs and symptoms in your dog. Dogs are natural hunters and are often intrigued and driven to chase and/or kill venomous snakes, regularly coming off second best and ends in snake bites on dogs. Pictured: Snake detection kit is used in conjunction with analysis symptoms when looking for snake bites on dogs
Even to the trained eye, reactions to a snake bite can vary and are determined by a range of factors. These can include the species of snake (the most commonly seen snakes in South East Queensland are the Eastern brown snake and Red-bellied black snake) and the volume of venom injected. These factors can greatly impact the presentation, symptoms and severity of the encounter. However, if these symptoms and signs are left untreated, the chances of survival become lower. Depending upon the geographical region - brown snakes, tiger snakes and black snakes account for over 90% of snakebite cases.
Symptoms and signs of snake bites on dogs:
- General lethargy
- Muscle tremors, shaking and reduced palpebral function (reduce eye blink)
- Dilated pupils
- Ataxia (weakness) - generally sudden onset followed by collapse, which may be followed by an apparent quick recovery
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- Irregular bleeding from the nose, mouth or anus
- Haematuria/myoglobinuria (bloody/dark urine)
- You will be unlikely to see a snake bite wound on a dog
Symptoms and signs to look out for can include vomiting or feeling genuinely unwell, noticeable muscular tremors, reduced energy or lethargy, paralysis, and irregular bleeding. Paralysis is a common sign of a snake bite, but can also be a common symptom of other medical concerns. Due to this reason, it is important to give the veterinarian as much information as possible when first visiting with a dog who is suspected to have been bitten by a snake.
Sudden collapse events in dogs with snake bites
Animal Emergency Service Jindalee Veterinarian Dr Gerardo Poli explains why sudden collapse events may occur in snake bite patients. "We think that the venom activates clotting factors, bringing on clot showers - meaning clots go everywhere around the body, which causes the animal to collapse because of the restriction of blood flow to the different areas of the brain and organs. These clots then dissolve and the pet may quickly recover, so when they get to an emergency vet the patient is actually not yet paralysed - they're actually still okay - but their clotting times are prolonged because their clotting factors are all consumed." Watch Dr Gerardo Poli explain this in the video of Tic Tac the Eastern brown snake patient here.
Vomiting in dogs with snake bites
Vomiting is not a common occurrence in dogs who have been bitten by a snake, but veterinarians know that this happens as an immune response to the venom that is circulating through the body. Although less common, vets do advise to be on the look-out for pets who look to feel unwell, especially if they have been seen earlier with a snake.
Dilated pupils and neurological signs and symptoms of snake bites on dogs
When the venom enters the body, the venom has neurological effects on the nervous system. As a result, the dog's pupils may dilate, and cause other neurological symptoms such as inability to 'smile', open the mouth properly or protrude the tongue.
What does a snake bite on a dog look like?
A typical snake bite can appear almost painless initially and difficult to spot. The tiny fangs often leave only faint puncture or scratch marks often without redness, bruising or swelling making it even more difficult to identify a dog snake bite occurrence. It is important to not be complacent - dogs can be asymptomatic up to 24 hours after a bite, and even trivial looking bites can result in lethal envenomation. Pictured: Tic Tac the Chihuahua Maltese X was bitten by a brown snake. It is extremely rare to find snake bite markings.
What are the effects of snake bites on dogs?
How the venom affects the dog's body varies depending on the species of snake and can be very complicated. The most common snake to bite a dog is the brown snake, whose venom is made up of powerful properties affecting blood coagulation (the blood's inability to clot), greatly increasing the risk of bleeding to death (often recognised as irregular bleeding). Pictured: Life-saving snake anti-venom and treatment for snake bites on dog
Other symptoms present in loss of bladder and bowel control, bloody urine, muscle tremors, shaking, reduced eye blinking, paralysis, and episodes of collapsing or seizure.
Black snake bites on dogs can also be fatal, showing varying symptoms on presentation due to different toxins. Toxins from black snakes can cause painful muscle breakdown and damage to blood cells, causing dogs to shake, have muscle tremors, become paralysed, and have episodes of collapse or seizures. Renal function is then compromised due to the by-products of the muscle and red blood cell breakdown which obstruct the kidneys and cause organ failure. Tiger snakes are known to inject venom that causes paralysis and muscle injury and subsequently renal failure, while the whip snake (or small-eyed snake) is known to cause paralysis and muscle weakness.
What is the best treatment for snake bites on dogs?
The longer a snake bite on a dog is left untreated, the lower the chance of survival. Blood clotting times and a snake venom detection kit using ideally a urine sample or swab from the site of the bite or blood can be used by your vet to identify if your pet has been bitten and the species of snake. The veterinarian will not use the signs and symptoms of a snake bite on a dog alone to diagnose that snake envenomation is present. In addition, veterinarians will use blood and urine samples and a number of other diagnostics to confirm a diagnosis. For more information on the treatment of a snake bite on a dog, read our article 'What is the best treatment for snake bites on dogs?'.
Once the species of snake has been identified, only then will emergency vets able to administer anti-venom and commence essential life-saving treatment. If you suspect your dog may have been bitten by a snake, seek veterinary assistance immediately. For more information about snake bites on dogs, click here.