Learn hiking and camping safety for dogs concerning poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes, snake bite symptoms, first aid, and snake bite vaccine.
Camping and hiking is a fun and economical vacation for families. Depending on the area, it may also be a vacation where the dog can go, thereby eliminating boarding costs.
Most dogs enjoy outdoor sights and smells, especially in a new place to explore, however, our loveable pups are notorious for ferreting out snakes in the outdoors. Campers and hikers who learn a few tips on avoiding snakes and handling snake bites in dogs may save a dog’s life.
Identifying Snakes of the Area
Before leaving home, dog owners should research what specific kind of snakes inhabit the area where they plan to hike or camp. Becoming familiar with the habits and appearances of poisonous snakes can help in avoiding them.
Snakes are shy by nature and usually avoid hikers and pets. Hikers and dogs keeping to the open trails minimize the risk of encountering a snake. A dog’s nose poking into a clump of grass or under a rock off the path can surprise a dozing snake. Most snake bites occur when the reptile is surprised, cornered, or threatened.
Dogs should not be allowed to examine dead snakes. Dead vipers, or even just a dead viper’s head can have muscle contractions and inflict a venomous bite.
Poisonous or Nonpoisonous?
Snakes are not always easy to identify. Colors and patterns vary greatly within the same species but venomous snakes are often identified by the pockets of venom which create a triangular appearance to the head.
According to Becky Lundgren, DVM, of veterinarypartner.com, poisonous snakes “have a pit between and slightly below the eye and nostril. Pit vipers also have long movable fangs, a “cat’s eye” pupil, undivided scales under the tail, and a large triangular-shaped head with a small shiny cap over the nose.”
A nonpoisonous snake will not have the pits or retractable fangs and will have a smooth cap across the top of the head.
Encountering a Snake
Sudden moves can cause a snake to strike, however, a snake is capable of striking only half its length. Hikers and dogs happening upon a snake within striking distance should remain still and wait for the reptile to move away on its own. Many dogs will not remain still and in this case, it may be a better risk to go ahead and try to move away slowly. Hikers out of striking distance should move away slowly until they are a safe distance from the snake and then continue on.
Snake Bite Symptoms in Dogs
Dogs who have been bitten may exhibit:
- Shallow or irregular breathing
- Puncture wounds with bleeding, bruising or swelling
Dogs who have received only a small amount of venom may not show systemic symptoms for two to three days.
Snake Bite Vaccine for Dogs
Red Rock Biologics has developed a snake bite vaccine, available only through veterinarians, which causes the dog’s body to produce antibodies that neutralize venom, however, the vaccine is venom-specific and does not cover all kinds of snakes.
The vaccine also weakens over time and is effective for only a certain period. Its effectiveness will vary according to the size of the dog, the type of snake and the amount of venom injected. A vaccinated dog that gets bit may have a milder reaction and recover more quickly but, even in a vaccinated dog, a poisonous snake bite can be life threatening and needs emergency treatment.
A veterinarian can discuss the advantages and disadvantages of a snake bite vaccine in individual cases.
Snake Bite First Aid for Dogs
A venomous snake bite is life threatening for dogs. Irreversible effects of the poison begin immediately and any dog that has been bitten by a snake needs emergency attention by a veterinarian. Antivenin is most effective when given within four hours of the bite.
- Identify or get a description of the snake as a specific antivenin treatment is needed for each kind of snake
- Keep dog calm and still, carry him if necessary, as movement causes the poison to spread more quickly
- Be careful handling dog as the pain may cause him to bite indiscriminately
- If bite is on leg, loosely immobilize the limb in a natural position
- Do not apply a tourniquet or ice to wound
- Do not attempt to cut or aspirate the wound
- Rush the dog to a veterinarian