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What to Do If Your Pet Is Bit By a Snake

If you dog or cat has been bitten by a snake during your primary veterinarian's off business hours, visit Emergency Animal Hospital of Northwest Austin. Puppies and dogs are often tempted to check out any movement in the grass, making them particularly vulnerable. Texas is home to several varieties of dangerously venomous pit vipers (rattlesnakes, copperheads and cottonmouths) which have a heat sensing pit in front of and below their eye, triangular shaped heads, and ellipsoid pupils and the deadly coral snake that has alternating bands of black, yellow and red (remember: “red on yellow” kills a fellow). Our emergency veterinary professionals stresses, however, that even non-venomous snakes in the area can deliver bites that can become badly infected.

The prevalence of these snakes in our area makes snake bites a very common pet emergency in Austin that you should be prepared to handle.

  • The Western Diamondback rattlesnake is the cause of most of the envenomation cases in the Austin area, these snakes (along with the other pit vipers such as the copperhead and cottonmouth) have retractable fangs and tend to prefer to strike, letting go immediately. 
  • In contrast Coral snake bites rarely occur due to their elusive nature, small fangs and tendency to hold on to a victim when biting.   Although cats are famous for their curiosity, many of them spend their time indoors these days, however when they do get bitten it can cause serious problems as in dogs.

What to DO!!

If you suspect that your pet has been bitten by a snake you should:

  • Keep your pet as calm, quiet, and inactive as possible
  • Identify the snake if possible, but do not put yourself or others at risk, do not try to approach it!
  • Take your pet to a veterinarian as quickly as possible.
    • The sooner your pet is treated the better the chance of survival
    • Even if your pet appears normal shortly following the bite your pet could still develop severe symptoms associated with a snakebite

Symptoms of Snakebite

The symptoms of a bite by a pit viper such as the rattlesnake, copperhead, or cottonmouth may show some or all of the following:

  • Two puncture wounds, often on the face or neck, but sometimes on the legs. Snake bites on the torso are rarer, but usually have bad outcomes.
  • Extremely painful swelling, bleeding and/or bruising at the bite site.
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Sudden weakness followed by collapse
  •  Shock and difficulty breathing
  • Shaking or tremors of the muscles
  • Coral snake bite wounds are hard to notice due to their small size and the fact that their venom is a neurotoxin and does not cause significant local tissue reaction. 

Venomous pit viper snake bites can cause significant tissue damage at and around the bite site, affect the hematologic system (the blood’s ability to coagulate), the cardiovascular, renal, and gastrointestinal systems. Some rattlesnake bites may cause neurologic signs with minimal reaction at the bite site but the rattlesnakes (Mojave) that cause these symptoms are not located in the Central Texas area.   


Treatment for venomous snakebites depends upon the type of snake, the severity of the bite and laboratory results.  First your pet will be examined by our emergency veterinarian to assess the signs and symptoms they are showing.  Diagnostic bloodwork may be performed to determine the likelihood of envenomation and assess vital organ function and coagulation abnormalities. Treatment decisions are based on the patient’s clinical symptoms and bloodwork abnormalities. Treatment is designed to limit the circulating venom load and to treat the symptoms and consists of (but not limited to) a combination of the following:

  • Antivenin administration which binds to the venom to reduce its effects (shock, hematologic abnormalities, pain, swelling, local tissue damage). Some pets will require multiple vials of antivenin.
  • Intravenous fluid administration to treat circulatory shock
  • Pain medication to control pain
  • Antibiotics to help prevent infection

Important DO NOTS

  • Do not cut the bite open and try to suck out the venom!
  • Do not try to apply a tourniquet!
  • Do not apply ice!
  • Do not wait to have your pet examined by a veterinarian!

If you pet was bit by a pet during the evening or early morning, please visit Emergency Animal Hospital of Austin, your emergency veterinarian in Northwest Austin, or call us at 512-331-6121.

Related Pages

Venomous Snakes in Texas

Common Pet Emergencies