There are certain parts of the country where copperhead snakes inhabit, and for dog walkers this can present quite a hazard. In recent years there have been increases in copperhead sightings near residential areas which means you need to be extra cautious too.
It’s not always obvious at first when a dog gets bitten by a snake. So, how can you tell if your dog has been bitten by a copperhead, and what are the symptoms of copperhead bite in dogs?
I managed to get a fact file from a local vet, so have transcribed a lot of what I’ve read and been told into this guide to copperhead snake bite in dog symptoms. I hope you find it helpful.
Copperhead bite symptoms in dogs
Copperheads are very shy creatures and will usual slink off into the grass or bush as soon as they hear any noise of activity near them. However, due to the speed of dogs and their in-built prey drive, it’s not uncommon for them to corner a copperhead. The snake will then feel threatened and bite the dog.
Due to the mix of chemical compounds in their venom, the symptoms of copperhead bites in dogs can be very varied. Here are the signs to look for.
1. Two puncture wounds from the fangs
Immediately after a copperhead bite, there will be two small red dots on the skin about a centimetre apart. However, depending on where the bite was, and the hair of your dog, it might not be possible to see this particular copperhead bite symptom.
You might also see fluid or blood seeping from the bite marks.
2. Rapid swelling around the bite location
Very quickly after the bite, the wound will start to swell up, and will be a dark red colour compared to your dog’s skin in the minutes following the attack. After 2 hours it will be a noticeable bump on your dog’s skin.
This skin inflammation and bruising occurs as the venom starts to spread through the blood.
3. Change in your dog’s behavior
After a copperhead bite, your dog will be confused and nervous. People I know whose dogs have been bitten have immediately been alerted to the fact by their dog acting all skittish and weird.
If it was a bite to the leg, look out for them picking the leg up and hobbling or walking in a strange manner. If it’s a bite to the face, they might start pawing at it.
Please note: the following listed symptoms are more serious and rarer
In very rare cases, there can be complications, including the following symptoms. This is unusual though as in most dog copperhead bites, they recover quickly providing they have had immediate veterinary attention.
Handy Hint: Did you know that the fatality statistics for dog copperhead bites are said to range from 1% to 10% dependent on many factors. Find out what those variables are here.
4. Very rare: Signs such as drooling, lethargy, and vomiting
Once the copperhead venom gets into your dog’s system you can start to see more obvious symptoms of a serious copperhead bite. In dogs, as well as the obvious signs of pain, some of these symptoms could also be related to other conditions.
The only way you will know will be to seek the professional advice of your vet, so if you suspect a copperhead bite, get to professional help immediately.
5. Very rare: Breathing difficulties
Panting is one of the more serious copperhead bites in dog symptoms. You will notice your dog having heavy breathing due to an allergic reaction to the copperhead venom, typically when bites occur on the head and neck.
Your dog’s heart rate could increase, and some will also show pale gums when breathing.
6. Very rare: Lameness and collapse
In the most serious of cases, and in the fatalities recorded, the copperhead venom absorbs into your dog’s body. It can lead to an inflammatory reaction which results in blood clots, fever, tremors, and an eventual collapse.
How do I know if my dog was bitten by a copperhead?
Aside from the symptoms of copperhead bites listed above, your dog’s behavior will also be a key indicator to whether they have been bitten.
In many cases you won’t even see the copperhead that bit your dog. The first sign your dog has been bitten by a copperhead will be a loud yelp and sudden movement from your four-legged friend, followed by limping.
Most copperhead bites in dogs are on the face or legs, so check those first if you believe your dog might have been bitten. You should look for two red dots, followed by swelling as described in the dog copperhead bite symptoms already mentioned.
What do you do if your dog gets bit by a copperhead?
- Get away from the copperhead: 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 copperhead, call your vet to discuss the options. Very few vets will use copperhead antivenin, so they may just recommend pain relief, fluids, antibiotics, and antihistamine.
- 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 copperhead’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.
- 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 has been a contributory factor in the rare deaths.
- 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.
What does a copperhead bite look like on a dog?
Aside from the two red dots, once the venom starts to spread, you will see visible swelling.
— WTVR CBS 6 Richmond (@CBS6) September 15, 2015
Can a dog survive a copperhead bite?
In the majority of cases, most dogs will survive copperhead bites.
Whether the dog survives the copperhead bite will depend on a range of 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 copperhead bite venom as larger breeds could.
- The location of the bite: Dogs are more likely to survive copperhead 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 or eye has a higher rate of fatality.
- The strength and volume of venom: Whether a dog lives from a copperhead bite will also depend on how much venom was injected. If the copperhead 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 copperhead bite 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.
Whilst the signs of copperhead bites in dogs listed in this guide along with the symptoms do make for sobering and scary reading, bites are actually quite rare.
Most snakes will only ever bite when they feel cornered and in self-defence, so it’s up to us as owners to prevent this happening in the first place.
You might also like…
I regularly write about dogs and snakes, so you might find the following articles of interest:
- How much it costs to have your dog vaccinated against a rattlesnake bite
- Survival rates in dogs bitten by rattlesnakes
Image in header via https://www.flickr.com/photos/blachswan/20763039019/