Coral Snake Bite Poisoning in Dogs

Barri J. Morrison, DVM
By Barri J. Morrison, DVM on Jun. 1, 2023

What Is Coral Snake Poisoning in Dogs?

Not all snakes are a threat to your beloved dog. There are more than 3,000 species of snakes on the planet, and approximately 600 species are venomous. Venomous snakes are those that have a special gland that produces and secretes venom that can injure or kill those they bite or sting.  

Coral snakes (which are poisonous to pups) are commonly found in southern US states from Florida to Texas. They are small, brightly patterned venomous snakes.

Fatal venomous snakebites are more common in dogs than in other pets. Due to the severity of potential consequences, if you suspect that your dog has been bitten or even had an encounter with a coral snake, contact an emergency veterinarian immediately.

Coral snake bites are a medical emergency and the sooner your dog sees the vet for treatment, the better the outcome.

Symptoms of Coral Snake Poisoning in Dogs

Symptoms of venomous snake bites vary depending on the species of snake. A coral snake’s potent toxin primarily causes paralysis of the muscles, which includes the muscles that contribute to breathing. Unlike other venomous snake bites, bites from coral snakes do not normally cause excessive swelling or pain at the bite site.

Signs of coral snake bites can occur immediately but can also be delayed up to 18 hours. Symptoms may include:

  • Drooling

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Heavy panting, rapid breathing

  • Loss of control of muscular movements (ataxia or incoordination)

  • Weakness

  • Muscle twitches

  • Disorientation

  • Shallow breathing

  • Loss of sensation in all limbs

  • Loss of voice

  • Irregular heartbeatTrouble breathing

  • Collapse

  • Final stages:

    • Paralysis of all limbs

    • Respiratory distress, respiratory failure

    • Death

Symptoms can last up to 10 days, which is why you must take your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Causes of Coral Snake Poisoning in Dogs

Coral snakes tend to be reclusive, spending their time hiding underground or under objects such as logs, so bites in dogs are uncommon—but they do occur. Dogs tend to get bitten by coral snakes when they are playing in snake-infested areas such as swamp edges, pine, and scrub oak sandhills, and sometimes in hardwood or pine flatwoods after seasonal flooding.

Bites often occur when the snakes are triggered by a dog’s playful or curious behavior, and the muzzle and legs are areas most frequently bitten.

What Does a Coral Snake Look Like?

Coral snakes have a bright pattern of yellow, red, and black rings that encircle their body. Wide red and black rings are separated by thinner bands of yellow. They are relatively small, with an average length of 1.5-2.5 feet. Both the head and pointed tail are black, with thicker yellow rings than those on the body.

coral-snake-in-grassEastern Coral Snake

Image Credit: Mark Kostich

My Dog Was Bitten by a Coral Snake. What Do I Do?

If you see your dog get bitten by or even playing with a coral snake, or if you suspect they have been bitten, immediate veterinary attention is necessary. It is not recommended to use a tourniquet, ice pack, or hot pack if your dog was bitten, as these can decrease circulation to the affected area and cause significant tissue damage.

If your pup will allow it, try to keep the bitten area at or below the level of the heart to reduce blood flow to that area. If possible, carry your dog rather than letting them walk as you transport them directly to the veterinarian for immediate care.

It is not advised that you touch or try to pick up any snake, but if you can safely take a picture of it, this will help your veterinarian identify it and treat your dog properly. 


Treatment of Coral Snake Poisoning in Dogs

Matching the type of snake with the right antivenom is just as important as getting immediate veterinary care. Upon arrival to the animal hospital and identification of the snake, your vet will give your dog a dose of antivenom right away if they have it. Antivenom is not as readily available as it once was, but it is frequently available in veterinary hospital and clinic areas that see coral snake bites often.

Antivenom boosts your dog’s immune system to counteract the effects after a snakebite. It is most effective if given within a few hours after a bite, and should be given to any dog that is bitten or even suspected to have been bitten by a coral snake. This may or may not help to stop the progression of the paralysis and other clinical signs. It can also take a few days for the antivenom to have full effect on the entire body.

After the antivenom treatment, or if antivenom is not available in your area, follow-up care is targeted based on the symptoms a dog displays. Muscle damage from the venom can cause elevated myoglobin levels in the blood, which can lead to acute kidney disease (evaluated by blood and urine testing). Medications can be given along with IV fluids to support the kidneys and help reverse an irregular heartbeat.

If your dog is unable to swallow, a feeding tube may be used. If paralysis has occurred and your dog has trouble breathing on their own, the tube will be placed in their throat to allow for manual or even mechanical breathing with a ventilator.

Even if your dog has no clinical signs, it’s best to have them stay at the vet’s office or emergency room for at least 48 hours for observation in case signs do develop.

Recovery and Management of Coral Snake Poisoning in Dogs

If your dog is bitten by a coral snake and gets prompt emergency treatment, they can make a full recovery. The chance of this is based on how quickly the dog gets treatment after being bitten. Where the dog was bitten on the body can also make a difference in the prognosis. Venomous snakebites that occur on a dog’s abdomen or chest are more often fatal than those on the limbs or head.

It’s very likely that your dog will have to stay in the hospital for at least 48 hours after a coral snake bite, but in severe cases it can be up to 10 days.

Once your dog comes home from the animal hospital, they will need rest and a tranquil space to recover. It can take a few weeks before they return to normal.

Featured Image:

Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri J. Morrison, DVM


Barri Morrison was born and raised and currently resides in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She went to University of Florida for her...

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