Snake bites on dogs

April 18, 2024 - 5 min read

The information in this article has been reviewed by Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM on April 18, 2024 . Although it may provide helpful guidance, it should not be substituted for professional veterinary advice.

A white and orange dog standing in the grass with a snake in it's mouth

Every year, roughly 150,000 dogs and cats in the US are bitten by venomous snakes. Snakes may not be common in the streets of Chicago, but they can crop up fairly often in rural, suburban, or natural areas.

The good news? If you're not regularly hiking or living in a snake-populated area, snake bites don’t need to be a major concern. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared, as snake bites almost always require prompt medical attention.

Below, we discuss snake bite symptoms, what to do if your dog has one, how they’re treated, and how you can prevent them. 

How common are snake bites on dogs?

While snake bites on dogs are relatively rare, the likelihood can vary significantly based on geographic location. Areas with dense populations of venomous snakes, such as certain rural and wilderness areas, see a higher incidence of encounters. And snake activity increases during warmer months, raising the risk of encounters during these times.

Snakes usually bite in self-defense when accidentally provoked. For instance, a bite may occur if a dog disturbs a snake while sniffing around its habitat or accidentally stepping on it. 

Dogs who are particularly curious or adventurous, with a tendency to explore off-leash or burrow into underbrush, are at greater risk. When these pups invade a snake’s space, they trigger the snake’s defensive behavior, inadvertently putting themselves in harm’s way.

(Of course, your dog doesn’t know about any of this, so it’s your job to protect them.)

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What are the most common types of snake bites in the US?

Most snakes that live in North America are not venomous, and while they may still bite, they don’t cause major health problems. Venomous snakes are a different story, however. According to one scientific review, poisonous snakes native to North America break down into two categories: pit vipers and elapids.

  • Pit vipers (e.g., rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths): These snakes are easily identifiable by their distinctive triangular heads, narrow necks, and large, folding fangs. Rattlesnakes are perhaps the most famous, known for their warning rattle sound. Copperheads are less conspicuous but equally dangerous, often found in wooded areas across the Eastern and Southern United States. Cottonmouths are found in and around bodies of water in the Southeast United States.

  • Elapids (e.g., coral snakes): Unlike the more aggressive pit vipers, elapids are generally more reclusive and less likely to bite unless provoked. 

Coral snakes, known for their bright, colorful banding, are primarily found in the southern United States, making their encounters less common but potentially more dangerous due to their potent neurotoxic venom.

The majority of snake bites come from pit vipers, simply because their habitat spans much of the continent, from deserts and forests to swamplands and suburban areas. In contrast, elapids like coral snakes are mostly confined to specific regions in the South. 

Unfortunately, the same study pointed to an alarming statistic: 1–30% of these bites are fatal in dogs.

What does a snake bite look like on a dog?

It depends on how deep the bite is. Shallow bites or bites from smaller snakes may not leave much of a mark, while deeper bites often look like the stereotypical snake-calling sign—two evenly spaced tooth marks—but this can still be hard to find under a dog’s fur.  

However, bitten dogs will usually show other signs as well. As bite wounds aren’t always visible, it’s better to look for any of the symptoms listed below.

To reiterate: Just because you can’t see the bite site doesn’t mean your dog isn't bitten. 

Dog snake bite symptoms

If your dog is bitten by a venomous snake, symptoms can develop very quickly, usually within two hours. Here's how to categorize and recognize the signs:

Immediate signs:

  • Painful swelling: most commonly on the face or front legs, indicating where the bite occurred. Dogs may have trouble breathing if the swelling around the head is severe.

  • Pale pink or white gums: a sign of shock.

  • Excessive salivation: is often one of the first signs of envenomation.

  • Limping (if the bite is on a leg): caused by pain or swelling.

Signs of a worsening condition:

  • Vomiting and diarrhea: These symptoms can escalate quickly and are signs of systemic poisoning.

  • Sudden lethargy or nervousness: Changes in behavior can be a critical indicator of distress.

  • Hyperthermia: Your dog may feel unusually hot to the touch, a response to the venom.

  • Tachycardia (rapid heart rate): Check by placing your hand on the left side of your dog’s chest; a fast heartbeat can be a sign of the body’s response to the venom.

  • Abnormal bleeding or bruising: Snake venom can interfere with normal blood clotting.

  • Neurological signs: weakness, loss of coordination, seizures, and muscle twitching can occur.

  • Tissue death: The skin and other tissues around the site of the bite may slough off. 

Some dogs will deteriorate quickly and develop serious conditions like kidney failure and bleeding disorders if left untreated. It is crucial to take your dog to a vet immediately if you notice any of these symptoms. 

Although deaths from snake bites are rare, they are more common in smaller dogs who don’t receive prompt treatment. A 2011 study found that 97% of bitten dogs developed symptoms, while deaths accounted for 4.6% of all cases. 

The size of your dog, the type of snake, how much venom they inject, and how quickly you seek treatment can significantly influence these outcomes.

The size of your dog, the type of snake, how much venom they inject, and how quickly you seek treatment can significantly influence these outcomes.

While knowing the symptoms can be extremely helpful, preventing snake bites from occurring in the first place is just as important. If you’re in an area where snake bites are a known risk, keep your dog on a leash and be vigilant during walks.

And if you suspect your dog has been bitten by a snake, a rapid response is critical. For the best chance of a full recovery, take them to a vet as soon as possible

What should I do if my dog’s bitten?

Again, you must take your dog to a vet immediately if you suspect they've been bitten by a snake. You can’t treat this issue at home; doing so can even make things worse. If possible, contact your regular vet to see if they're equipped to handle snake bites. If so, you can take your dog to them.

However, in severe cases or outside regular hours, an emergency clinic may be better prepared to handle the situation.

How do vets treat snake bites on dogs?

Treatments will commonly rely on one or a mix of: 

  • Fluid therapy (this helps with shock and supports organ function)

  • Strong pain relief 

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs

  • Antibiotics (for secondary infections)

  • Antivenom (in severe cases)

Along with these, a vet may want to take your dog in for monitoring, including blood tests and ECGs. This may involve leaving them at your vet overnight or for an even longer period.

How much does a snake bite cost to treat?

The cost of treating a snake bite on your dog can vary significantly based on the severity of the bite and the required treatment plan recommended by your veterinarian.

Minor bites might only need pain relief and observation, which can be relatively inexpensive. But in severe cases where the bite leads to antivenom administration, overnight hospitalization, or other intensive care, the costs can escalate quickly, sometimes amounting to thousands of dollars. 

How to prevent your dog from getting a snake bite

Snakes are most active in warmer months, particularly during early mornings and late afternoons when the temperature is more moderate. We recommend staying extra vigilant during these times, especially if you're hiking or walking in sunny, natural areas. Stick to clear, well-used paths as much as possible, as snakes often hide in tall grass or underbrush.

If you encounter a snake, keep a safe distance and don’t disturb it. Always watch where you and your dog step, and remain vigilant. You can even equip your dog with a snake bite-proof vest if you're in an area known for snake activity. And consider using a walking stick to rustle bushes ahead to encourage any hidden snakes to move away.

Training your dog to respond reliably to commands like ‘leave it’ or ‘come’ is incredibly important. Recall training and other commands can prevent your dog from exploring dangerous areas or interacting with wildlife. It’s also wise to keep your dog on a leash in snake-prone areas.

Lastly, always have a plan in case of a snake bite. Know the location of the nearest vet clinic that can treat snake bites. Also, talk to your veterinarian about the pros and cons of the rattlesnake vaccine for dogs if your pup is at especially high risk of being bitten.

As always, dog insurance can help offset the potentially high costs of treating your dog for snake bites. Most pet insurance policies cover treatments for accidents. The peace of mind of knowing that your dog is safe and insured is truly priceless.

David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.