How A Venomous Snake Bite Nearly Killed My Dog

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Lily playing in dirt: How a Poisonous Snake Bite Nearly Killed My DogIt was one of the scariest moments of my life when my dog Lily was bitten by a venomous Copperhead snake. All I could do was rush to the vet and pray for the best. But this very frightening experience has made me a colossal pet insurance advocate, and I hope my story helps you know what to do if you face a difficult life and death pet decision.

Did You Know?

Many people say “poisonous snakes,” when really they should be using the term “venomous.” These two terms are often used interchangeably, but they’re actually quite different. Both poison and venom are toxic substances that can harm or kill you, but the difference is in the way the toxic substance is delivered to the victim. Poison enters the body through swallowing, inhaling or skin absorption, while venom is actively injected through a bite or sting.

Lily vs Copperhead

We adopted Lily from the local animal shelter in April 2013 (just before she was due to be euthanized, sadly). She was a new member of our family but fell in perfectly with my husband and me, our other dog Bella and our home.

Fast forward five weeks later… Lily was enjoying a warm spring day last May in our backyard. We had never given a second thought to whether our dogs would be safe in our own backyard, and Lily really loved to explore and bask in the afternoon sun. When we called the dogs in for dinner around 5 pm, Bella came running, but Lily was nowhere to be found.

First, we thought she had run away (she was new to our household, so we did not really know), but then Bella ran back down to show us where Lily was — behind a tree licking her wound. Her typically little leg (she weighs 35 pounds) was as wide as a Great Dane’s leg! She could not walk on her tender, swollen foot/leg. We did not know what was wrong, but we picked her up quickly, put her in the car, and drove as fast as we could to the vet.

Get To The Vet ASAP For Snake Bites On Dogs

Dog with Copperhead Snake Bite on FootWhen we arrived, they were waiting for us on high alert. Based on our description on the phone, they were pretty sure it was a Copperhead snake bite. And, they quickly determined they were right, so we had to act fast. Sadly, they were about to close their doors for the night, and she would need at least 24-hour on-watch supervision if things went in a positive direction.

So, they called the emergency vet to explain the situation while we drove there to get her treatment. It was only a 15-minute drive, but we had been told already that her chances of making it decreased significantly every minute treatment was delayed, so it was a LONG drive.

When we arrived, the emergency vet was ready and waiting. They put Lily on an IV to start rehydrating her, and the vet sat us down to discuss our options quickly:

  1. Give her anti-venom, which may work but also has a high risk of creating other health issues that could be deadly.
  2. Hydrate her and hope it washes out the venom. But the speed at which her swelling was progressing, this option seemed pretty much a death wish.

Anti-Venom: A Costly Decision

The cost of the anti-venom (option 1) was high with an estimated cost of $1,500-2,000 for the treatment over the next 24 hours. But, we had to act quickly or she would be gone.

For most, this financial decision, especially on a dog who was new to our family, would have seemed insane but lucky for us we had signed Lily up for pet insurance the week we adopted her because we have seen minor benefits of hedging your risks with our other dogs. But, this truly tested the limits. With pet insurance as our cushion, we made the call to administer the anti-venom ASAP and hope for the best. We did not really think, we just said to the vet, “We have pet insurance” and hoped for the best. The vet immediately said, “Oh, thank goodness. Let’s get started right now.”

Pet Insurance Saved Lily’s Life And Our Wallets

And that vet was right. After two nights in the hospital, Lily made it through and had a positive response to the anti-venom. When all was said and done, the bill came out to $1,900. We submitted the claim online to our pet insurance carrier two days later, and within a week, we had a check in our hand for 90% of the total cost. So, with one freak accident in the backyard and the treatment needed to resolve it, our pet insurance (~$32/month) paid for itself for the rest of Lily’s life. I am thankful every day we could make that choice so quickly to treat her because now we cannot imagine our family without her in it.

Whether it be snake bites on dogs or a car accident injuring your cat, I strongly encourage you to learn more about pet insurance to see if it can help you save stress and money too.

Video: How To Detect Snake Bites On Dogs

Not All Poisonous Snake Bites Are Venomous

Not all poisonous snake bites release venom (about 25% according to WebMD), so your dog may not show signs of swelling or pain. However, keep a watchful eye on them as they may just not have the outward symptoms while internally, their bodies are still fighting the battle. Give them lots of fluids, and if they show signs of sluggishness, vomiting or other irregular behavior, visit your vet for an exam immediately.

Has your dog ever had any close calls with a snake? Share your story below.

About The Author:

Michelle holds an MBA from Vanderbilt University and has worked in marketing at Bank of America, Mattel and Hanes. She is the proud co-founder of Canine Journal and a dog lover through and through. Since the day she was born, she has lived in a home full of dogs. Her adult home is no exception where she and her husband live with Bella and Lily, their two adorable rescue pups. In addition to her love for snuggling with dogs, she also has enjoyed working professionally in the canine field since 1999 when she started her first dog-related job at a dog bakery.

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Bob
A few years back my dog and I had a close call with a timber rattlesnake near Lordville, NY. We were hiking along a ridge about 500 feet above the Delaware River.I wasn’t paying enough attention to the trail in front of me until I heard a loud buzzing sound. I never encountered a rattler before, but I knew it was a rattler. My next step would have placed my foot on the snake and resulted in a bite. My dog was face to face with the snake with maybe a foot of distance separating them. The snake chose not to strike, a decision that spared all three of us some grief. The dog was leashed and I was able to pull her and myself out of range instantly. I grabbed a firm stick and was able to push the snake off the trail to allow us to safely pass and continue on our way. I was smart to have the dog leashed. I learned a lesson about not focusing on the trail. It was a happy ending for dog, man and snake.
Ann Allen
This was extremely dramatic and totally false information…rarely does a copperhead bite need antivenom. Also antivenom rarely has deadly side effects. And ” Not all poisonous snake bites are venomous”. No snakes are poisonous…lol unless you plan on eating them.
Alex Schenker (Admin)
Ann, you are correct that rarely do copperhead bites need antivenom. Most of the year in fact, adult copperheads will give you a “dry” bite (no venom) as a warning. They do this because they need to save up their venom reserves for the year. The bites can be extremely painful but are not known to be dangerous to adults and larger animals.

However – in the Spring, during mating season, baby copperheads may do what’s called a “venom dump.” They freak out, and dump all their venom into one bite. This situation can be life threatening to smaller animals as well as human babies.

John
Just got back from an evening walk. We were close to home when Poppy jumped into the grassy median and stuck her nose into the back end (thank goodness) of what turned out to be a fairly large copperhead (probably about 30 inches so probably a male). Poppy loves garden snakes and plays with them, and they seem to play with here, so she was happy. I pulled her away before the business end of the snake turned around and high-tailed it home.
Cat
My dog has been attacked by something at first the wound had pussy bulb in it the Bulb Has since drained and the hole is getting bigger it’s now looks like maybe maggots are forming in it I don’t know what attacked him it’s been 4 days what do I do it’s a weekend
Kimberly Alt (Admin)
Have you taken your dog to the vet?