Snake Bites. Each year hundreds of pets come into contact with venomous animals. As we continue to venture forth into the wilderness, veterinarian, Dr Carol Osborne offers tips to help make hiking safe for you and your pet this summer. In general, most North American snakes are timid and naturally avoid pets and people. However, dogs and cats are often intrigued by snakes and enjoy harassing them, inviting a bite.
Minimize your dog’s exposure to snakes by staying on cleared, open paths while hiking. Keep your dog on a leash and don’t let him dig under rocks, logs, or explore holes. If you do encounter a snake or hear the distinctive rattle of the rattlesnake, try to figure out where the snake is, then quickly and quietly move away. Keep your dog on a leash at your side until you both are a good distance away from the snake. Most snakes can strike at a distance of about half of their body length. Given the opportunity, most snakes will simply leave the area, wanting to avoid interaction with you and your pet.
Many species of snakes, particularly rattlesnakes, are more active at night. Avoid evening hikes in areas where these animals are prevalent. Recently, a rattlesnake venom vaccine has been created for dogs. The theory is that utilizing a rattlesnake venom vaccine will allow the dog to have protective antibodies available immediately and allow for neutralization of the venom. Red Rock Biologics, the company that created the vaccine, states that vaccinated dogs, on average, will have antibody levels comparable to treatment with three vials of antivenin.
Any pet bitten by a snake should be seen by a veterinarian immediately. Several factors, such as the species of snake and amount of venom injected, could affect the outcome, even with a vaccinated pet. Although anecdotal evidence from veterinarians in rattlesnake endemic areas is supportive of the vaccine, many veterinary teaching hospitals are urging caution in its use.
In some cases, dogs with snake bites are treated only with supportive care and in others, antivenin is used. Antivenin for pets can exceed $800 per treatment and may not be readily available.
Some veterinary experts recommend training your dog to avoid snakes. This type of training could be very useful, but, like many training regimens, most dogs will need routine refresher courses.