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What To Do If My Dog Gets Bitten

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What To Do If My Dog Gets Bitten

This article was written by a veterinarian of the United Waterfowlers Forum. (Reproduced with permission)

When it's warm it is snakebite season and if you missed the rattlesnake avoidance clinic here is something to keep in mind of your dog should get bit:

Have On Hand During Snake Bite Season:

Liquid Benadryl (Children's) 1 mg per Lb body Weight......Teaspoon = 12.5 LBS Body Weight. Keep it on hand if your in Snake Country......almost as fast as injection. (Still get them to the Vet as quickly as possible)

"First, let me say that I have been a vet for 23 years in N Florida. We treat probably an average of 15 snake bites a year. (NOTE: Eldorado veterinarians report a rattlesnake per week during snakebite season.) That would translate to over 300 snake bite cases I have treated, or been involved in. So my opinions are not based on what happened to one dog, or my neighbor's dog or even the 2 dogs that have been bitten that I personally owned. So not only have I treated a lot, but since I do treat so many, I stay current with current treatment options and what works best (based on data, not stories).

So, here goes with some absolutes about snakes. The things that follow are facts that I have either observed or read or both.

  • There is no magic time for how long until treatment. get them there as soon as you safely can. I have saved dogs that were bitten 24 hours prior and had patients die that I saw within 30 minutes. The exception is if there is a bite to the tongue or inside of mouth that may cause breathing issues. I have never seen a bite to the nose cause life threatening breathing issues.
  • You do not need to make any effort whatsoever to "get the snake" to take it to the vet. If it is poisonous and causes swelling, we know what to do. The only other poisonous snake in FL is the coral and it does not cause swelling. Unless it is some released species and we will not have antivenin anyway.

Antivenin (anti-venom) is NOT an antidote (meaning it cures). I rarely give it anymore. (NOTE: Discuss with your veterinarian.) There are situations where I think it is best to give it, but I have found very little prediction of survival based on antivenin administration. There are some cases that are so bad, you had better use everything you have (bites to the trunk (body) of small dogs or cats).

Bernadene (Diphenhydramine) is NEVER wrong to give and almost always, if not always, will help the patient. The liquid is nearly as fast as an injection. 1mg per pound of body weight (or Children's Liquid, generic is fine - 1 tsp for every 12.5 pounds of body weight if they are bitten).

Treatment by a veterinarian will ALWAYS result in less disease for the patient. Absolutely, many patients will survive without veterinary treatment. But snake venom is a huge protein and huge proteins are deposited on the basement membrane of the kidneys when filtered. This leads to immune related injury to the kidneys from snake bites that may not be clinically relevant, but could lead to permanent kidney damage that could affect them later in life. Intravenous fluids reduces this risk as well as keeps the patient well hydrated to get rid of the venom and reduce the toxins built up from necrotic (dead) tissue resulting from snake bites. Simply put, if you want to increase the dogs chances of survival and less long term disease, take them to the vet.

Venomous Snakes

  • Moccasins (Cottonmouth) are the least toxic may have more tissue toxicity-damage local tissue and pain but they can still kill a dog
  • Copperheads next most toxic
  • Western Coral snakes (mostly found in Catron and Hidalgo counties of western and southwestern New Mexico) with a very poisonous bite
  • Rattlesnakes are the most toxic

A lot of factors play a role in the odds for the dog:

  • Location of bite-nose, face, head, legs, trunk of body (best to worst)
  • Time of year-fall snakes have been actively feeding and have less stored venom, spring snakes have more likelihood of having stored venom from less recent feeding
  • Amount of injection - a miss or an oblique bite that does not get full injection 
  • Species of snake
  • Size of snake (more venom = more serious)
  • Prior history of bites improves patients odds (more immune response to the venom)

Anyone, vet or otherwise, can NOT predict which dog will live and which will survive by looking at them, or even by running tests. there are just so many variables. I can often tell someone that the odds are bad or that the odds are good, but sometimes I am wrong. I still get surprised.

IV fluids are the single most important factor that we can control in helping a snake bite victim recover with the minimal amount of disease, with bernadene being second. Some patients are going to die, no matter if they were in a veterinary University Teaching Hospital at the time of the bite and there is NOTHING that could have been done to save them. I have had patients die with 30 minutes of the bite (one was a Jack Russel bit in the side of the chest, the other was an American Bulldog bit between 5-10 times all over the body).

"What can I do to make the odds the best in my dog's favor that it will not die from a snake bite?"

  • Keep bernadene in your dog first aid kit - Children's Liquid, generic is fine. Give them 1 tsp for every 12.5 pounds of body weight if they are bitten.
  • DO get your dog to a vet if they are bitten as soon as reasonably possible - do not be over-dramatic and get in a car accident to get there, but do not stop at the dry cleaners on the way either. Proceed with due haste."