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A majority of US states have rattlesnakes that can be potential threats to your dog. Rattlesnake venom can result in death if action isn't taken quickly because it contains toxins that can spread throughout the dog's body.

If you suspect your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, it's an emergency. You should take them to the nearest emergency vet as soon as possible for treatment. Even if you're unsure whether your dog was bitten, they should be examined by a vet because the toxins are fast-acting, and damage can be irreversible. Keep reading to learn what to do if a rattlesnake bites your dog.

List of snake bite symptoms

Snake Bite Symptoms

"My dog got bit by a rattlesnake" is something many pet parents think they'll never say in their lifetime. Unfortunately, if your dog spends any time outside, especially in the Southwest, where they're most common, they can fall victim to a rattlesnake bite.

The symptoms of rattlesnake dog bites are similar to other types of snake bites and include:

  • Shaking or twitching muscles
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Hind limb weakness and collapse
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Vomiting
  • Paralysis
  • Salivation
  • Severe swelling near bite
  • Enlarged pupils1

The most obvious sign is seeing a bite wound on your dog or seeing the bite occur. If this happens, you should seek veterinary care immediately. Your dog will likely experience pain and swelling at the site of the bite, but this isn't always the case.

My Dog Got Bit By A Rattlesnake…Now What?

If your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, you should take them to the nearest emergency vet clinic for treatment as soon as possible. Don't wait to get them the care they need because the longer the venom stays in their body, the more harm it can do.

Follow these steps if your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake to ensure they get care as fast as possible.

Step 1: Stay calm

Being calm will benefit both you and your dog. While discovering your dog has been bitten by a rattlesnake can be panic-inducing, you must be able to act quickly and think straight to ensure you can get them to the nearest emergency vet clinic.

The faster you get your pet to the vet, the better their outcome will be, so staying calm and getting them to the vet should be your first priority. If possible, you can try to take a photo of the snake at a distance to help your vet identify the type, but this can also waste time that could be used to ensure your dog gets treatment.1

Instead, you'll want to get your pet to the vet as soon as possible. You may need to carry them if they're experiencing pain or difficulty walking. In any case, staying calm is crucial because being panicked can make your dog more nervous, making them feel more distressed and potentially become more challenging to treat once you make it to the vet's office.

Step 2: Seek veterinary help immediately

If you live where rattlesnakes are common, your first thought may be to go to an antivenom clinic. However, you should always go to the nearest vet clinic because they have experience treating snake bites in dogs and can ensure your pet gets the necessary care.

A rattlesnake dog bite is fairly obvious to vets, with the most obvious sign being the bite itself. However, your vet will determine whether or not your dog needs antivenom through a series of blood tests and by talking to you to determine the type of snake, if possible.1

You should never try to treat your dog's rattlesnake bite on your own. While you may have heard adding a hot or cold compress or suction can be beneficial, these are myths and can actually cause more harm because it isolates the venom into one area.1 Instead, leave the bite wound alone and take your dog directly to the vet.

Identifying the snake is ideal because it can help your vet determine the right treatment. However, while trying to capture the snake or at least take a photo of it might be tempting, there's no need. Your vet will be able to treat your dog nonetheless.

If you happen to identify the snake, share this information with your vet because different types of venom can affect treatment options. For instance, it might require a different treatment if it wasn't a rattlesnake.

If you have a friend or family member with you, you can ask that they drive your dog to the vet while you sit with them in the backseat and call the vet to get information for actions to take as an immediate response to the snake bite.

Rattlesnake bites are typically treated with antivenom, but your vet may recommend overnight hospitalization for additional supportive care in the form of IV fluids and monitoring. After your dog is discharged, they'll still need time to recuperate at home.

Step 3: Provide follow up care

Your vet will send you and your dog home with instructions to follow to ensure they get enough rest and can recuperate comfortably. There may be lasting effects of the venom based on the damage it has done to your dog's body and internal organs, so there's no single way to care for a dog after being treated for a rattlesnake bite.

For instance, if the venom has affected the organs, you'll need to monitor your pet at home and have regular follow ups with your vet. Meanwhile, dogs that went into shock may need additional medication.

At the very least, your dog will go home with a bandage over the bite wound to help it heal and prevent infection. You may also receive antibiotics and pain medications.

Dogs & Rattlesnake Safety Tips

According to UC Davis, there are around 150,000 cat and dog rattlesnake bites in the nation every year.2 If you have an active breed, knowing how to protect them is crucial, especially if you live in the Southwest, where they're more prevalent.

An estimated 150k cats and dogs are bitten by rattlesnakes each year

Here are a few tips to help you keep your dog safe from rattlesnakes when camping, hiking, or just spending time together outdoors:

  • Familiarize yourself with local wildlife: Knowing about the local wildlife in your area and where rattlesnakes have been spotted can help you avoid them completely.
  • Keep dogs on leash and on the trail: Keeping your dog on a leash while hiking will prevent them from wandering off and potentially getting bitten when you can't see them.
  • Avoid tall grasses and rock piles: Snakes like to hide in tall grasses and rock piles because they're stealthy predators. Keeping your lawn trimmed and avoiding tall grasses while spending time outdoors may reduce the potential for a snake bite.
  • Keep snakes out of your home and garden by removing rodents and potential snake nesting sites: Like most predators, snakes go where their prey is. If you have rodents in your yard, they could attract snakes. You should also check your property regularly for snake dens that look like holes in logs and the ground and decaying leaves. If you find these nesting sites, you can fill them in with dirt or wiring to keep your dog safe and snakes out of your yard.
  • Know the symptoms associated with snake bites: While you should keep an eye on your dog at all times when they're outdoors, you won't always be able to see a snake. Knowing the symptoms of a snake bite can help you save your dog's life.2

If you live in a high-volume area, you can also ask your vet about the rattlesnake vaccine. The vaccine will not offer full immunity because the venom is different for each snake species, but it may be worth looking into if you live in the Southwest.2

However, even if your dog does get vaccinated, you should still take them to the emergency vet clinic if they're bitten by a rattlesnake. Never assume the vaccine will work 100%. Instead, it could help save your dog's life, but not in every case.

FAQs

When and where are rattlesnakes a threat?

Rattlesnakes are found in almost every state in the United States.3 However, they're more prevalent in the Southwest in states such as Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Rattlesnakes and other species of snakes can live in a variety of habitats, ranging from forests and grasslands to swamps and deserts. They're also capable swimmers.3

You won't always see a rattlesnake. While different species have various ways to protect themselves, some use camouflage coloration to blend into their environments. Then, if your dog happens upon one, they can be defensive, shaking its rattle to ward off predators.3 Unfortunately, anything can startle a rattlesnake, forcing them straight into an attack with no warning.

The good news is that rattlesnakes aren't looking to harm you or your dog. Instead, they're more likely to defend themselves when people or pets stumble upon them.

Rattlesnakes are most active at dusk and dawn.4 Knowing this can help you avoid them. For instance, instead of walking your dog through the woods at these times, you can walk them on sidewalks or streets where snakes are less likely to be.

Can a dog survive a rattlesnake bite?

Yes, dogs can survive rattlesnake bites. However, early intervention is essential, which is why it's so important to take them to the nearest emergency vet clinic for treatment as soon as possible.

The good news is that up to 25% of rattlesnake bites contain no venom at all.2 However, you should never take a chance with your dog's life. If you even suspect your dog was bitten by a rattlesnake, the best thing you can do for them is take them to the vet immediately.

Up to 25% of rattlesnake bites contain no venom at all

How long does it take for a dog to react to a rattlesnake bite?

It can take up to 24 hours to notice the symptoms of rattlesnake bites in dogs.5 Rattlesnake bites hurt, so your dog may try to tell you something is wrong much before then. Since early intervention is so essential, you should always listen to your dog when they tell you something is wrong.

For instance, if you're on a hike together and your dog yelps, you should check them for snake bites and other injuries immediately.

Dog with owner

Final Notes

Knowing what to do if your dog is bit by a rattlesnake can potentially save their life. Unfortunately, you won't always know as soon as your dog is bitten, so you should look for signs and changes in your dog's behavior. Prevention is key, but it's not perfect.

If you believe your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, take them to the nearest emergency vet clinic as soon as possible. Dutch telemedicine for pets specializes in non-emergency medical care for pets, so we can't provide antivenom, diagnostics, or treatment for snake bites. However, we can help you keep your dog healthy once they return from the hospital. Dutch vets will work with your emergency vet for the best at-home care to help your pup recuperate after a snake bite. Try Dutch today.

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References

  1. Henton, Lesley. "What to Do If Your Pet Is Bitten by a Snake." Texas A&M Today, 3 Nov. 2022, https://today.tamu.edu/2022/11/03/what-to-do-if-your-pet-is-bitten-by-a-snake/.

  2. Bailey, Pat. "Rattlesnake Season Poses Concerns for Pets." UC Davis, 24 Jan. 2016, www.ucdavis.edu/news/rattlesnake-season-poses-concerns-pets.

  3. "Rattlesnakes." National Wildlife Federation, www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Reptiles/Rattlesnakes

  4. Jolley, Faith Heaton. "How to Stay Safe If You Encounter a Rattlesnake This Spring or Summer." Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/news/utah-wildlife-news/1393-how-to-stay-safe-if-you-encounter-a-rattlesnake.html

  5. "Snake Bite on Dogs: Treatment, Safety, & Preventions." WebMD, https://pets.webmd.com/snake-bite-on-a-dog.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

What is a visit with Dutch like?

When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

After your video call, the vet will send you a message with a custom treatment plan to help your pet feel better, including a link to buy any recommended prescription or over-the-counter medications. Place your order and we’ll ship it free.

How much will it cost for Dutch to treat my pet?

The Dutch membership starts at $7/mo for unlimited access to the vet. No more long waits for appointments or surprise bills.

In addition to the base membership plan, our veterinarians may also recommend additional medication (Rx and/or OTC) that you will have the option of adding to your plan at an additional cost.