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Snakes and Traveling Pets - What to Do on 'Paws on Board'

Welcome to “RVing Today’s” “Paws On Board.” I’m Dr. Fitz, and this is Sammy. Today we’re going to be discussing the dreaded snake bite. In certain parts of the country, snake bites aren’t much to worry about. In the Midwest, for example, there are a few snakes that are bold enough to bite a human or a pet, and even then the bite itself isn’t much to worry about. However, in many areas of the country, humans and pets alike have runnings with snakes that can cause severe damage and even death with a single bite. Although we might know how to avoid snakes ourselves, our dogs and cats are not as fortunate. Many dogs and cats suffer snake bites as a result of hunting behavior and general curiosity.

Often owners witness the snake biting their pet or hear their pet whining after they’ve been bitten. So what should you do if your pet may have been bitten by a snake? The best thing is to get your pet to veterinarian ASAP. Field first aid generally provides little benefit for the pet in these situations. Having a list of emergency vet hospitals with you on your trip can be helpful in getting your pet care faster. If your pet has actually killed the snake, bring it to the hospital with you in a sealed container in the event that the veterinarian needs to ID it. The type of snake that bit your pet can make a big difference in the outcome of the situation. However, if the snake is alive, do not endanger yourself and risk a bite. Try to get a look at what the snake looks like if possible, but otherwise leave it alone. 

Why are snake bites so dangerous to us and our pets? Certain species of snakes are venomous, meaning that they’re able to inject a toxin into their target with their fangs. Each species of snake may do this in a different way, and venom can cause a variety of illnesses in the victim. Some venoms are neurotoxic, meaning they cause paralysis or other types of nerve damage, some are cytotoxic, meaning they cause severe tissue damage, and finally, some are hemotoxic, meaning they can cause widespread bleeding or clotting. This is why identifying the snake can be helpful for treatment. It gives the vet an idea of what to expect in your pet. 

So what does treatment for a snake bite look like? The veterinary care team will first stabilize your pet, meaning they’ll address any shock, bleeding, or clotting issues and do any wound care that your pet may need. Then they may monitor your pet for at least the next 24 to 48 hours, looking for any of the side effects that can happen with a specific venom. There are anti-venoms available for several different types of venom, but they’re not always available for the vet and they do not always work. Keep in mind that the prognosis for a pet after a snake bite is highly variable. It depends on the size of the pet, the location of the bite, and the type of snake. Smaller pets and bites to the chest or belly can actually have a worse prognosis. So how can you as an owner prevent a snake bite for your pet? First, if you’re in an area with high snake activity, keep your pet leashed at all times when on trails. Keep your pet connected to the RV with the leash hooks when you’re at the campsite. Some dogs can actually be trained to avoid snakes, which can be immensely helpful, but most dogs are not trained for this. The main piece of advice is to keep yourself safe so that you’re able to help your pet in an emergency situation .