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Snake Bite Emergencies

If your pet enjoys exploring the great outdoors, it is a possibility that he or she will encounter a snake.

While most snakes are not venomous, those that are can pose a life-threatening danger to your pet. Fortunately, our Melbourne, Florida emergency animal hospital knows how to treat this type of pet emergency.

What are the signs of snakebite?

Snake bites are usually quite painful regardless of whether they are venomous or not, but there are certain symptoms that clearly indicate a venomous bite. Even in non-venomous bites, there is still the risk of bacterial infection.

Look for swelling and bruising around the puncture wounds usually left by a snake bite. Bleeding or a bloody discharge often occurs at the site of the bite. The puncture wounds from the fangs may not be visible due to either the rapid swelling or the small mouth size of young or small snakes. If your pet begins to vomit, acting sluggish or weak, these are signs that the venom has begun its work. Even if your pet displays no symptoms except for pain, the safe move is to take your pet to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

The venom of most North American pit vipers (crotalids) contains toxic proteins that create both localized and systemic effects. These effects may include local tissue and blood vessel damage, destruction of red blood cells, bleeding or clotting disorders and lung, heart, kidney, and neurologic failures. Pit viper venom can cause shock, low blood pressure and lactic acidemia (a change in the pH of the blood). The venom of most North American pit vipers causes minor neuromuscular disease, although Mojave and Eastern diamondback rattlesnake venom may cause serious neurologic harm.

Coral snake venom contains primarily neurotoxic components (components that are toxic to the neurologic system), which result in neuromuscular damage and often paralysis of the diaphragm. There are often minimal symptoms and signs seen at the bite site.

Florida has both venomous and non-venomous snakes, so unless you saw the actual snake and can identify it with absolute certainty, it is best to treat it as an emergency.

If the snake is still in the area, take a picture of it and bring the photo with you to our emergency animal hospital. Our trained staff will be able to verify if it is venomous or non venomous specimen.

What first aid treatment should I do on my way to the veterinarian?

It’s important to note that snake bite emergencies may not respond to common pet emergency treatments.

First aid steps that DO make a difference including keeping your pet as still and calm as possible, and positioning your pet so that his heart is never lower than the bite marks. These steps will slow the progress of the venom.

Icing the bite wound or applying a tourniquet is usually NOT effective at controlling or even slowing the effects of a venomous snake bite. Your pet would better benefit from swift action in getting them to the veterinarian. Sucking out the venom is also NOT advised as this may poison you as well.

What is the treatment for snakebite envenomization?

Venomous snakebites are medical emergencies requiring immediate attention. Before treatment begins, it must be determined whether the snake is venomous and whether envenomization occurred. Sometimes, a venomous snake may bite and not inject venom (“dry bites” occur in about 20% to 30% of pit viper bites and in about 50% of all of coral snakebites). When no envenomization occurs, or if the bite is inflicted by a non-venomous snake, the bite should be treated as a puncture wound. Non-venomous snakebites are generally treated with wound cleaning, antibiotics, anti-histamines and anti-inflammatory medications as indicated.

The correct treatment of venomous snakebites depends on the type of snakebite. Copperhead envenomization is usually treated with a combination of antibiotics, anti-histamines, anti-inflammatory medications and fluid therapy that counteracts potential hypotension or shock. Rattlesnake and coral snake envenomization involves treatment for shock and administering appropriate antivenin. Rattlesnake envenomization is an immediately life-threatening situation and prompt medical assistance must be sought. Coral snake bites are also life threatening depending on the amount of venom injected. Cottonmouth envenomization may also require antivenin treatment in severe cases. Treatment to counter shock, low blood pressure, infection and respiratory distress is indicated in most cases of venomous snakebites.

What is the prognosis for a DOG OR CAT bitten by a snake?

The pet’s prognosis depends on several factors, including:

  • the size and species of the snake

  • the amount of venom injected

  • the number of bites.

  • the location and depth of the bite – Bites to the head and body tend to be more severe than bites to the legs or paws because swelling from bites around the face can lead to airway obstruction and difficulty breathing.

  • the age, size, and health of the pet

  • the time elapsed before treatment

  • the dog’s individual susceptibility to the venom

Generally speaking, copperhead, cottonmouth and coral snake envenomization cases have a better prognosis for complete recovery than rattlesnake bites.

Let Our Melbourne, Florida Animal Hospital Handle It.

The most important step you can take is to rush your pet to our veterinary hospital. Our 24-hour emergency and critical care veterinarians can administer lifesaving antihistamines, antibiotics, hydration and/or antivenin. We will do everything possible to save your pet!

For more information about the emergency treatment of snake bites, call Animal Specialty and Emergency Center of Brevard at 321-725-5365. If you pet needs emergency care for a snake bite, please do not delay seeking treatment.

Additional Snake Information:

There are only about twenty-five species of venomous snakes currently living in North America. The most common venomous species of snakes in North America include:

  • Rattlesnakes

  • Copperheads

  • Cottonmouths or water moccasins

  • Coral snakes

Common Venomous North American Snakes:


  • Banded rock

  • Black-tailed

  • Canebrake

  • Diamondback (eastern, western)

  • Massasauga (eastern, western)

  • Mojave

  • Mottled rock

  • Pacific (northern, southern)

  • Pigmy (southeastern, western)

  • Prairie

  • Red diamond

  • Ridge-nosed

  • Sidewinder

  • Speckled

  • Tiger

  • Timber

  • Twin-spotted


  • Broad-banded

  • Northern

  • Osage

  • Southern

  • Trans-Pecos


  • Eastern

  • Florida

  • Western

Coral snakes

  • Arizona

  • Eastern

  • Texas

  • Western

Rattlesnakes account for most venomous snakebites and for almost all deaths. Other venomous snakebites are by copperheads and cottonmouths (sometimes referred to as water moccasins). Coral snakes account for less than 1% of all bites in the US. It should be noted though that Florida accounts for around 65% of the 1% of coral snake bites. Currently, there is a dangerous shortage of coral snake antivenin in the United States.