About 75 percent of all rattlesnake bites contain venom, while the other 25 percent are dry bites that contain no venom. If venom is injected into a rattlesnake bite, the signs and symptoms of toxicity are the same in all animal species. Symptoms can range from simple pain and swelling to severe paralysis and death. Dogs tend to be curious with their noses, thus running the risk of getting bitten on the face and front legs. Sometimes rattlesnake bites may be camouflaged by a dog's hair coat, making diagnosis difficult.
Signs and Symptoms of Rattlesnake Bites
If your pet is bitten by a rattlesnake, remain calm and do not touch the wound. The most common symptoms include puncture wounds, swelling, bleeding and pain. Bites around the throat may cause dangerous swelling that blocks a dog's ability to breath. Severe reactions consist of difficulty breathing, purple skin and mouth coloration, uncontrolled bleeding and paralysis. Paralysis often begins in the back limbs and progresses to the front of a dog.
What to Do
If you know that your dog has been bitten by a snake (even if you're unsure of whether or not it was a rattlesnake), take him to an animal hospital immediately. Do NOT wait for symptoms to appear. The quicker your dog is treated with antivenin the better his odds for survival. Ensure that your dog expends as little energy as possible -- meaning that you should carry him instead of allowing him to walk and do your best to prevent him from becoming too agitated. The more energy he expends, the more venom will be spread into his bloodstream.
Preventing Rattlesnake Bites
Avoid rattlesnake bites by not hiking in long grass, rocks or wood piles with your dog. Keep your dog on a leash and stay on trails. Do not let dogs approach snakes, as a rattlesnake can strike at a distance half the length of its body. A canine vaccine is available to reduce the severity of rattlesnake bite symptoms, but it does not provide total elimination of symptoms nor protection against certain rattlesnake species.
By Keri Gardner
RSPCA New South Wales: Snake Bites and Pets
Animal Pharm News: Management and Prevention of Rattlesnake Bites in Pets
Animal Medical Center: Prevention and Treatment of Rattlesnake Bites in Dogs
Tenaker Pet Care Center, Inc.: Rattlesnake Bites in Dogs and Cats
About the Author
Based in Michigan, Keri Gardner has been writing scientific journal articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in such journals as "Disability and Rehabilitation" and "Journal of Orthopaedic Research." She holds a Master of Science in comparative medicine and integrative biology from Michigan State University.