WARNING: Snake bite symptoms aren't aways obvious!

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This week we will be addressing snake bite symptoms. Next week we will cover field treatment. I was initially going to do the two together but there is so much information here that I decided it would be best to split them up. So here goes.

Snake bite symptoms might not be obvious. Especially if your dog has a lot of hair and the puncture wounds aren’t easily visualized.  Symptoms can range from localized swelling, to a more body wide type reaction.

In hospitals a scoring system is used to rate snake bite severity. This gauges the need for antivenom and overall therapy and treatment. Generally, antivenom is only administered if the severity reaches the “moderate to severe” range.

Last week we dove into great detail on the different variables of snake bites- which can vary by species, geography, and the type of bite. The type of snake bite is going to dictate the type of reaction the victim has—and ultimately determine the outward symptoms.

So, if you have a bite where the venom is predominantly a myotoxin (a toxic substance that causes tissue death of the muscles) - that is going to look different from a bite where the predominant make-up of the venom is a neurotoxin (which is going to be toxic to the nervous system). The venom they inject can be a combination of over 100 different toxic molecules.

Symptoms can range from localized swelling, pain, and heat at the site of the bite to seizures, respiratory distress, and unfortunately… death. – If death is so rapid that it occurs in minutes it was probably because the patient was very small, or because a significant amount of venom was injected and the bite hit a major vessel or the eye- Remember this is a very small percentage!

These symptoms can progress over the course of 8-24 hours. And some sources note that symptoms might not appear as long as 72 hours after the bite.

Keep an eye out for not only swelling, but bleeding and bruising as well. If you notice that the area of inflammation is extensively bruised this might indicate that there is a clotting inhibitor present in the antivenom. (ie some snakes release an anticoagulant which results in the inability clot blood—which can result in bleeding and bruising)

More serious, systemic type reactions could be indicated by the following, which we will break up by systems: (ultimately this is a more simplified version of scoring system when assessing snake bite severity in hospitals)


Mild: lethargic, painful in the belly, straining to defecate

Moderate: vomiting, diarrhea

Severe: comatose, listlessness, irretractable vomiting, diarrhea, bloody vomit or stools



Mild: anxious, restless

Moderate: weakness, seemingly unsteady, chills

Severe: extreme lethargy, paralysis, stupor, coma, seizures


Soft tissue reaction:

Mild: pain, mild inflammation, and or swelling at the site of the bite

Moderate: pain, swelling, bruising, reddened skin at the site that appears to be spreading slowly but takes up less than half of the limb

Severe: Pain, swelling at the site of the bite, bruising, reddened skin spreading rapidly at the site of the bite that extends the entire limb

Markedly Severe: Pain, swelling, and bruising. The reddened skin might extend beyond the limb to the body and there might be tissue that is dying or peeling back


Respiratory system:

Mild: mildly increased breaths per minute

Moderate: Breathing might become more difficult. Moderately increased breaths per minute. It might appear that the dog is using his abdominal muscles to expel air

Severe: Blue tongue and gums, breathing is difficult with severely increased breaths per minute, possible collapse


Cardiovascular system:

Mild: Mildly increased heart rate, weakness

Moderate: Increased heart rate- pulses might be slightly weak

Severe: Severely increased heart rate, pulses potentially very weak. Cardiac arrest


Clotting factors:

Mild: Mild bruising at the site of the bite

Moderate: More extensive bruising +/- blood oozing from the puncture site

Severe: Extensive bruising and potentially bleeding


So, if you guys follow me on Instagram and watch my stories you know I have covered respiratory distress in our dogs and finding the femoral pulse. The symptoms listed above are the reason why you must know normal for your own dog. If your dog gets bit by a snake and you do not know where to find the femoral pulse and how it feels normally- you will not be able to decipher a weak from a strong pulse. If you are not used to observing his normal respiratory rates and patterns while at rest, relaxing, and at play you might be confused as to what’s normal for him in emergency situations.



Recognizing snake bite symptoms quickly is very important so that there is no delay in seeking veterinary care. Most people think of these symptoms as two bleeding puncture wounds- which is easily spotted on a human (who lack the thick fur coat and have the ability to talk)… but if you have a husky or some other thick coated breed you may not initially see a puncture wound. And you can bet money that they aren’t going to tell you about it. (At least not in the form of words)


If you have any questions or concerns about snake bites, please do not hesitate to reach out. My challenge for you now that you are armed with this information is to focus on what you can control. Then ultimately you worry less and feel more confident in your explorations with your canine companion. Even during the warmer spring and summer months where snakes are more active.

Next week we will address treating a snake bite in the field.

Happy tails and safe trails,

Libbie Fort, DVM

P.S. Don't forget to snag your quick reference chart for safe dosage instructions on over the counter medications! Get instant access by clicking here! 


Libbie Fort

Hi Lucia!
Great questions. Unfortunately, the only way to know if your dog suffers a dry bite is the absence of symptoms. However, it can take quite some time for symptoms to appear depending on the bite and species of snake. That is why it is best to seek veterinary care regardless.
If you find a dead snake in the yard bear in mind that dead snakes can still bite and deliver venom for up to an hour after they die. Dead snake bites are arguably more dangerous because they have no control over the amount of venom they deliver.
It is no longer advised to apply pressure wraps. We worry about tissue death with snake bites- and some speculate that a pressure wrap will only exacerbate these symptoms.
I hope this helps!



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