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. Her expert advice and opinions have appeared in many outstanding media outlets, including The New York Times' Wirecutter, Forbes, People, Reader's Digest and Apartment Therapy, among others.

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 Lily and Barley, 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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Jeana Lowe
July 25, 2020 9:30 am

My lab was bitten by a Copperhead in GA and it affected his joints for months! He has arthritis already and it seriously exasperated the issue big time. He could barely walk for several weeks. Very scary! My vet told me that existing joint issues are made much worse by a venomous snake bite. A lot of joint supplements and Prednisone later, and he was good to go.

June 2, 2020 10:02 am

Thank you for your informative article. Here is my experience yesterday. I hope it may help someone else understand better if their pup is snake bit. We have two adopted dogs. Milo a basset hound and Otis our 15 lb. dachshund. We live in the woods where snakes, especially copperheads, are seen often. We spent $1,000 this year expanding the fenced-in area for our pups so they would have a “safe” place to play outside away from the deer, coyotes, armadillos, etc. We have a doggie door so they can come in and out into their fenced-in area whenever they choose. Yesterday morning I noticed that Otis’ nose was swelling. The first thing that came to my mind was that he was bitten by a copperhead. I called the Vet’s office and asked how much children’s Benadryl I could give to him. I was told not to give him the Benadryl and just bring him into the office. If I had it to do over, I would have given him the Benadryl before going to the Vet’s office. The reason is that it took 25 minutes to drive there, 20 minute wait in waiting room to get a room for him, and 20 minutes more for the Vet to come into the room, evaluate Otis, and then finally get a Benadryl injection. Anti-venom is expensive ($400) and not always necessary. The Vet gave Otis an injection of Benadryl, an antibiotic, and steroid. I was sent home with prednisone, a steroid to give to Otis for a week, and some medication for pain. After I left the Vet’s office, I drove across the street to get gas for my truck. As I was waiting in line to get gas, I checked on Otis. He was quickly swelling a lot more, drooling, and starting to have difficulty breathing. I forgot the gas and drove back over to the Vet’s office. The Vet assistant at the front desk quickly scooped up Otis and took him to the back. The Vet came out to tell me that Otis was going to be swelling a lot more for two more hours. His suggestion was to put him on oxygen and start the anti-venom and it was going to cost me $400 for the treatment. I thought a moment, then agreed. Otis did very well with the anti-venom and oxygen. His swelling went down significantly and his breathing went back to normal. I brought Otis home an hour after his treatment with anti-venom. The Vet told me he would be swollen for about 48 hours after I got him back home, but he was stable, his swelling would be decreasing rather than increasing, and he was breathing normal. This morning Otis’ nose is almost normal looking again but he is very tired. I am keeping him in a crate today to keep him quiet and away from Milos until he is better. Snake bites, especially in small dogs, are not to take lightly. I don’t have pet insurance, but I do have a Care Credit card that is used for Vet emergencies only. That does help in making expensive medical decisions for a pet that you love.

May 7, 2020 6:17 pm

I am currently monitoring my dog for a rattlesnake bite to the face. My friends with experience told me not to do the antivenin. I was quoted $2400 for the treatment. I refused. He is currently doing ok. I think I took a risk, if I had insurance I may have done the treatment…at $32/mo this treatment would be the equivalent of 6 years of insurance payments… still debating if I should get it.

September 27, 2019 10:35 pm

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
August 18, 2019 3:30 pm

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
August 19, 2019 11:42 am
Reply to  Ann Allen

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.

September 2, 2018 9:08 pm

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.

May 12, 2018 9:04 am

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
May 14, 2018 8:56 am
Reply to  Cat

Have you taken your dog to the vet?