By T.J. Dunn, Jr., DVM
We are all familiar with situations where a dog happens to bite another dog or even a human. These occurrences are always scary. For me, the most heart-stimulating bite cases are the ones where the headline might read "Dog Bites Vet." Snakes, however, react quickly and don't care what's on the menu! So no matter who you are -- man or animal -- the effects of a venomous snake bite can be extremely painful and disfiguring. Venomous snakes kill many dogs, cats and people every year.
Did you know that each year in the United States, over one million animal-bite wounds are reported? Dogs and cats inflict the vast majority. On occasion the tables get turned on our canine friends though, and without warning they are recoiling from the pain inflicted by sharp, poison-injecting fangs. Caught off guard, it is a moment you will never forget if you and your dog encounter a poisonous snake while simply taking a pleasant walk in the outdoors.
Snakebites are a fact of life for dogs and humans in a wide area of North America. Venomous snakes bite about 8,000 people annually in the United States, but according to most estimates, no more than 12 of these bites are fatal each year.
You won’t find details on the numbers of dogs bitten, or killed, by venomous snakes, though. I asked Michael Schaer, DVM, Professor of Veterinary Internal Medicine at the University of Florida, College of Veterinary Medicine, about the numbers of dogs bitten or killed by snakes in the U.S.
"I don't believe we have a valid source of information on the actual numbers of dogs bitten or killed by snakes annually in the United States," he explained, "because there is no central data resource for this."
In his twenty-two years as the lead clinician handling snake bites at the veterinary school, Dr. Schaer estimates about a 20 percent fatality rate for dogs bitten by the Eastern Diamondback and the Eastern Coral snakes.
Although there surely are isolated areas of the United States where venomous snakes are not plentiful, their range spreads all across the country with only Alaska and Hawaii reporting no species of the poisonous kind. Many cases of snakebite occur in dogs that are "just visiting" a part of the country where poisonous snakes are plentiful. It has happened that dog owners who reside in an area devoid of poisonous snakes are shocked into reality when visiting an area where venomous snakes reside!
The Unites States has fifteen species of rattlesnakes; two kinds of water moccasins, the copperhead and cottonmouth; and two kinds of coral snakes. The six types described here make a good representation of the venomous snakes present in the United States.
Average adult size is 22-36 inches; has been reported to reach up to 53 inches long.
Range: Northern Florida up to Massachusetts, west to Texas and southeastern Nebraska.
Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin)
Average adult size is 20-48 inches but over 70 inches has been reported.
Range: From Florida all the way north to Virginia and west to Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas.