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Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources

Snake bites to people, pets and livestock

STILLWATER, Okla. – Snakebites do not typically occur because the reptile is attacking or being overly aggressive. Rather, most are the result of the timid creature being startled and going into self-defense mode.
Snake bites to people, pets and livestock

Prairie rattlesnake

“There is no need to be fearful of snakes. They aren’t trying to bite you,” said Dwayne Elmore, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension wildlife specialist. “Give venomous snakes a wide birth and they will move away from you. Most bites occur when someone either puts their hand where they can't see (and inadvertently on or near a snake) or when someone is harassing or trying to kill a snake.”

The same can be said for pets and livestock that are bitten. The curious nature of dogs leads to some incidents and horses may accidentally step on or put their head down to look at a snake.

In the rare event someone is actually bitten by a venomous snake, there are several things they should not do, and one they definitely should.

“Don’t panic. Don’t use a tourniquet. Don’t cut the wound and don’t use electricity,” said Elmore. “Just stay calm, elevate the wounded area and get to a hospital immediately.”

The advice also is true for pets, as they should be taken to the veterinarian immediately. There are a few first-aid tactics you could try on your way, however.

“Try to carry your pet rather than allowing them to walk and keep them quiet and warm during transport to the veterinarian,” said Dr. Elisabeth Giedt, director of Continuing Education, Extension and Community Engagement at the Center for Veterinary Health Sciences at OSU.

Tourniquets should not be applied as it can cause additional harm. While bites from nonvenomous snakes can cause swelling and bruising, bites from venomous snakes can have much more serious symptoms.

“Generally there is extensive swelling that spreads rapidly. The bite wound may bleed or produce a bloody discharge,” she said. “The bite wounds from the fangs may not be visible due to the swelling or the small mouth size of young or small snakes. Shortly after being bitten, dogs may demonstrate weakness, cool feet, pale mucous membranes and hyperventilation. The gums may turn pale or blue. It’s not uncommon for snake venom to also cause vomiting shortly after the initial bite occurs.”

The quicker pet owners are able to get their animals to the vet the better. Bites on or near the head tend to be more severe than bites to the leg and paws. The same is true for livestock.

“I don’t think you want to panic about snakes with horses. You have to think about how big they are,” said Kris Hiney, OSU Cooperative Extension equine specialist. “Something that could kill a small dog isn’t going to really hurt a horse. For horses, their biggest risk factor is if they get bit on the face.”

A bite to or near the face can cause a lot of swelling and give the horse trouble with breathing. Bites on the face of your horse should be seen by your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Extreme swelling of the bite to the face of a horse could close off air flow through the nose. Horses can only breathe through their nose and this could potentially suffocate the horse.

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Sean Hubbard
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Email: sean.hubbard@okstate.edu

Oklahoma State University - Stillwater, OK 74078
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