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My pet has been bitten by a snake, what should I do?

Companion animals may be bitten by venomous or non-venomous snakes. When a snake bite occurs, it is not always possible to know the species or type of snake involved. Always seek emergency veterinary advice and treatment as soon as you become aware your pet has been bitten by a snake, regardless of whether you know what kind of snake it was. If it was a venomous snake, the sooner your pet receives treatment, the better the prognosis and chance of survival. Even bite wounds from non-venomous snakes may need treatment.

As the weather warms up, snakes become more active ​[1]​ and pet owners need to be extra careful to safeguard their pets from snake bites. In addition, it is important to look out for warning signs that may indicate that your animal has been bitten by a snake, in case you didn’t see it happen.

Dogs and cats are the domestic species most commonly requiring veterinary treatment for venomous snake bite. Other species such as horses are also occasionally affected ​[1]​.

Whether your pet shows signs due to the venom injected by a snake bite (envenomation) is determined by numerous factors including: the type of snake, the amount of venom injected and the site of the snake bite.

Tiger and brown snakes are responsible for most of the venomous snake bites in Australian cats and dogs, but other venomous snakes are also a serious risk including, but not limited to, red-bellied black snakes, death adders and taipans ​[2, 3]​. A bite from any of these species can result in serious illness and can be life-threatening. The venomous snake species that occur vary significantly in different regions of Australia ​[2, 3]​. It is helpful to be able to identify venomous snakes in your home location and other areas visited with your dog.

Common signs associated with tiger and brown snake envenomation in companion animals include paralysis and/or muscle weakness and coagulopathy (impairment of the blood’s ability to clot which can cause prolonged or excessive bleeding) but other signs also frequently occur (see below) ​[2]​.

A range of clinical signs are associated with snake bites and vary depending on the snake species and companion animal involved; these include the following ​[1, 2, 4]​:

  • Sudden weakness followed by collapse, this may be followed by apparent recovery
  • Shaking or twitching of the muscles and reduced blinking of the eyes
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Dilated pupils
  • Paralysis
  • Difficulty breathing and/or fast breathing
  • Bleeding from the animal’s nose, mouth and/or site of the snake bite
  • Not eating (especially in cats)
  • Dark coloured urine (often bloody).

If you think your pet has been bitten by a snake you should keep them calm and quiet and take them to a vet immediately. The chances of recovery are much greater if your pet is treated early. Call ahead, so the vet knows you are coming and can give you advice and prepare what they need for your pet’s arrival and potential treatment.

If possible, apply a pressure bandage – a firm bandage above, over and below the bite site if you know where it is. If the bite site is on your animal’s face or neck and they wear a collar, remove it to avoid problems if the area swells. Do NOT wash the wound or apply a tourniquet.

If you can identify the snake, tell your vet what type of snake it is – but don’t try to catch or kill the snake. If it is safe, take a photo of the snake from a safe distance but do not attempt to touch the snake (even if the snake appears to be dead) as this puts you at risk. Your vet can perform a test that can identify what type of antivenom should be administered if required ​[2]​.

Animals who have been bitten by venomous snakes may require a variety of life saving treatments in addition to antivenom such as respiratory support (oxygen, mechanical ventilation), blood transfusions, and intensive supportive care ​[1]​.

Please be warned that treatment for snake bite envenomation can result in a large veterinary bill, so it is best to try and keep your pets safe and away from snakes in the first place.


​​[1] Padula AM, Ong HM, Kelers K (2018) Snake envenomation in domestic animal species in Australia. In: Vogel C, Seifert SA, Tambourgi DV (eds) Clinical toxinology in Australia, Europe, and Americas. Springer, Dordrecht, pp 505–536

​[2] Gopalakrishnakone P, Vogel C-W, Seifert SA, Tambourgi Editors D V Clinical Toxinology in Australia, Europe, and Americas.

​[3] Boller M, Kelers K, Stevenson MA, et al (2020) SnakeMap: four years of experience with a national small animal snake envenomation registry. Aust Vet J 98:442–448

​[4] Mcalees TJ, Abraham LA (2017) Australian elapid snake envenomation in cats: Clinical priorities and approach. J Feline Med Surg 19:1131–1147

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Updated on November 14, 2023
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