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Dalmatian sniffing ground in woods

Protect dogs from snake bites

Q: My friend’s dog was bitten by a copperhead while exploring the woods. His leg swelled so much he couldn’t put weight on it, and he whined continuously until the emergency veterinarian administered intravenous pain medication. How can I prevent the same thing from happening to my dogs?

A: Copperheads bite more people and dogs than any other snake in the United States. Even a baby copperhead can inflict a painful, venomous bite.

Most snakes, including copperheads, lie low and shy away from people and dogs. Copperheads use their camouflage pattern of copper, tan, beige and brown to remain hidden. So, when you and your dogs roam the woods, stay on established paths and watch where you’re walking. Before you step over a log or boulder, look at what’s on the other side. Wear sturdy hiking boots, not sneakers.

At home, discourage snakes from becoming close neighbors. Trim the vegetation around your house, and don’t let leaves or brush pile up near walkways or play areas. Wear heavy gloves when you gather firewood, and don’t extend your hands or feet where you can’t see them. Remove spilled bird seed, so it doesn’t attract rodents and the copperheads that feed on them. Use a flashlight at night and when you enter a dark shed or barn.

If one of your dogs is bitten by a copperhead, carry the dog to your car and drive to the nearest veterinary emergency clinic. Don’t apply ice or attempt to suck out the toxin.

Some emergency clinics stock antivenom, which should be given as soon as possible to minimize the pain, swelling and other effects of the venom. Copperheads can vary the amount of venom they inject with each bite, so you won’t know how seriously your dog is injured until the clinical signs become apparent.

Lee Pickett, V.M.D. practices companion animal medicine in Pennsylvania. Contact her at

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