There are 25 types of venomous snakes in North America, but none have as fearsome a reputation as the rattlesnake. It’s estimated that up to 5 people a year will die from rattlesnake bites in the United States. Dogs are just as much at risk, and if not more so due to the way they will encounter this deadly reptile.
But what happens if your dog was to get bitten? You could be out in the wilderness with no access to immediate veterinarian help. If this was to be the case, can a dog survive a rattlesnake bite without treatment?
I decided to look into the statistics of rattlesnake bites and dog survival rates to see what the truth was, and how worried you should be if you don’t have access to quick treatment or an antivenom. Here’s what I discovered.
Can dogs survive rattlesnake bites?
Dogs can survive rattlesnake bites but have higher survival rates depending on being given swift medical treatment. Vets will be able to administer an antivenom, which is said to be most effective when given to a dog within 4 hours of being bitten. For the best chance of survival your dog needs to be seen to within 30 minutes.
A rattlesnake bite is one of the biggest medical emergencies your dog could face. If given the right treatment and quick enough, dogs can live from a rattlesnake bite, with survival rates said to be between 80% and 90%.
Rattlesnake bites in dogs are life-threatening and painful, but the prognosis is good providing the dog is seen quick enough and treated with antivenom.
How long will a dog live after a rattlesnake bite?
Most dogs will live a full and healthy life after a rattlesnake bite if treated with antivenom. If not treated, and the bite was venomous enough, a dog’s bodily functions will start to shut down, leading to a painful death strung out over a period of a couple of days.
Handy Hint: I’ve also written a guide which includes the fatality statistics for dogs that have been bitten and killed by copperhead snakes.
How are dogs treated for rattlesnake bites?
To ensure your dog lives after a rattlesnake bite, the vet will administer an antivenom injection. Other medications can include anticonvulsants, antihistamines, pain relief, and anti-inflammatories.
With more serious bites, your dog might also receive oxygen support, corticosteroids and IV fluids and antibiotics to prevent infections, tissue damage and help with symptoms of shock.
Can dogs survive rattlesnake bites without treatment?
Some dogs can survive rattlesnakes without treatment, but it’s rare and will depend on many different factors. Rattlesnakes, and the Eastern Diamondback in particular, are the most venomous snakes in the United States, so prognosis without treatment is usually very dire for a dog.
Most vets agree that a dog’s survival rate from a rattlesnake bite will depend on several factors including:
- The age and size of the dog: Smaller and older dogs are more at risk and have lower survival rates. Smaller dog breeds have a higher body size to venom ratio so cannot absorb as much of the rattlesnake bite venom as larger breeds could.
- The location of the bite: Dogs are more likely to survive rattlesnake bites when they are bitten on the leg or face. Blood supply to these areas will be slower, whereas a bite to the dog’s tongue has a higher rate of fatality.
- The strength and volume of venom: Whether a dog lives from a rattlesnake bite will also depend on how much venom was injected. If the rattlesnake hasn’t bitten something in a while, the venom will be stronger and administered in more volume if it’s been saved up for a period of time.
- How long it takes to get treatment: The sooner you get medical help the better your dog’s change of survival will be. Ideally you need to get the dog to a vet inside of 30 minutes for the best prognosis.
- How active your dog has been since the bite: Your dog has a better chance of surviving a rattlesnake if he’s kept still and calm after the strike. This will slow down his blood flow around the body, meaning the toxins won’t reach the essential organs as quickly.
The bottom line is if you don’t seek immediate treatment, your dog is likely to suffer a lot after a rattlesnake bite and could even die. This is particularly true with smaller dogs who won’t be able to cope with the venom as well as a larger dog is able to.
Handy Hint: Treatment costs for a rattlesnake bite will vary wildly. Some owners opt for a preventative vaccine, here’s how much it costs.
Rattlesnake bite dog survival rates
According to estimates published online, the survival rate of a dog after a rattlesnake bite is between 80% to 95%. Statistics on rattlesnake bite dog survival rates without treatment is much lower. However, there is no data on survival rates with no treatment, as often the owners will not report the bite to a veterinary clinic.
As you would imagine, the survival rate chances of a dog after a rattlesnake bite is much improved if the animal receiving prompt medical treatment, and the nature of the bite.
Some dogs will take longer to recover, and this can often be related to the size of the dog, health, and age. The seriousness of the rattlesnake bite is the main factor, with recovery depending on how bad the tissue damage to internal organs was.
You can improve the chances of your dog not being bitten in the first place by appreciating a few facts about how rattlesnakes behave. For example:
- Rattlesnake bites in dogs are most common between April and October when the weather is warmer, and encounters are most likely.
- Most dogs get bitten by rattlesnakes within yards of their own home, rather than on hikes or camping out in the wilderness.
- Dogs tend to be bitten by rattlesnakes after an accidental step or after chasing them due to their in-built prey drive instincts.
Signs of a rattlesnake bite in your dog
You might not even have seen the rattlesnake strike your dog. If you do suspect your dog was bitten, here the most obvious signs:
- Your dog will be acting weird, including slow or ragged breathing.
- Your dog can become lethargic, shaking, and be unsteady on his feet.
- Your dog’s eye pupils will become dilated.
- Your dog will be whimpering and show obvious fear and pain.
- You will see a bleeding puncture wound with bruising and swelling.
How to improve your dog’s survival rate after a rattlesnake bite
If your dog does get bitten, here are some tips to help improve the rattlesnake bite dog survival rate of your own pet. It’s key to not try any lifesaving attempts yourself, but to get your dog into the capable hands of a vet as quickly as possible.
- Get away from the snake: Do not scare aware the snake, instead just get you and your dog away from it as soon as possible as it might strike again.
- Call the vets: As soon as your dog is bitten by a rattlesnake, call the nearest emergency vet services in advance so they can get the antivenom treatment ready.
- Do not touch the bite: Rattlesnake venom could get into your own bloodstream via any cut or scab in your fingers and hands.
- Do not use a tourniquet: Cutting off your dog’s blood supply to the bite will restrict blood flow. This can result in necrosis (see definition) which is where body tissue and cells die.
- Do not suck the venom out: Despite this often being seen in films, it’s actually ineffective as the rattlesnake’s venom is already in your dog’s bloodstream. You will not be able to suck it back out, no matter how hard you try.
- Keep the bite wound below heart level: By keeping the puncture wounds below the line of your dog’s heart, you can help to keep infected blood away from heart for a bit longer – this could help your dog’s survival rate after a rattlesnake bite by small, yet important margins.
- Don’t let your dog walk or run: The more your dog is active, the quicker his blood will pump around his body. As the blood pumps faster, it will spread the venomous toxins quicker and more towards the heart.
- Keep calm at all times: Instead try and carry your dog to the car instead, whispering and petting him to keep him calm. If you remain calm, your dog’s heart rate will not speed up as much, therefore won’t pump blood as quickly.
- Take a photo of the snake: If you get an opportunity, take a photo of the snake as this will help the medical team identify the species and administer the correct treatment and antivenoms.
I found various studies and reports from vets who explain that the predictions around the recovery and survival rate of a dog after a rattlesnake bite is much more conservative than other snake bites.
Dogs can survive rattlesnake bites, with the survival rate being very high providing quick treatment is sought.
However, dogs are very prone to being attacked, being 20 times more likely than people to suffer a bite. Due to their sizes, dogs are also 25 times more likely to die from a rattlesnake bite than a human is.
You need to be very careful when in areas where rattlesnakes are common. If you do live in an area like this, speak to your vet about getting your dog vaccinated with a rattlesnake vaccine.
Vaccinated dogs will still need treatment, but it’s said to help reduce the chance of pain, long-term injury, and death in canines.
But the main take out to consider is that if you act quickly enough, your dog could survive a rattlesnake bite.
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I frequently write down my opinions about dogs and snakes, with a few highlights featured below.