Snake-bites and Facial Swelling

Copperhead Most of the snakebites that I have to deal with here are from copperheads.  We do have cotton-mouth water moccasins, but most of my patients are not in the water so much.   Usually you just see some facial swelling, as dogs typically go in nose first, and the snake bites them on the lip.   You treat them for pain, for inflammation, and give antibiotics, as the puncture wounds from a snake bite can get infected, just a like a dog-bite wound.  Puncture wounds are deeper than they are wide, so you can’t really wash them.  The snake’s mouth is dirty, just like your own (well maybe not JUST like, but everybody’s mouth is full of germs), so the bite wound can get infected.

Pit Bull So, you have a Pit Bull, and his face swells up until he looks like a Shar Pei (at least his upper lips do).  Use your imagination, or Google up some Shar Pei pictures.

Then there is today’s case.  This is the worst case of post-snake-bite swelling I have ever seen.  The owner says that this is actually reduced from the night before when the dog grabbed the snake.  This dog usually looks like the Pit Bull on the left here.  Now he looks like a Neapolitan Mastiff.

My patient on the left, a Neapoloitan Mastiff on the right.

Killjoy Snakebite Neapolitan-mastiff-20


I think he will be fine, but he has some mongo swelling.

18 thoughts on “Snake-bites and Facial Swelling

  1. Blair Sorrel says:

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  2. kathleen says:

    About three years ago, my dogs got way too close to a timber rattler at our cabin in WV. Somehow, I managed to get them up to the deck and away from the snake before any biting took place. My understanding about rattlesnake bites is that they can cause the tissue around the bite to die.

  3. Doc says:

    Rattlesnake venom is much more destructive than the copperheads that I deal with here. Antivenin is recommended in the treatment, and tissue loss is certainly possible. I never have to deal with this and my expertise is limited.

  4. Donna says:

    Well, I just was searching for info about rattesnake bites and dogs and found your website. I live in West Texas, have 2 pits (Jake & Blueberry), who hate snakes, especially Jake. I was unsure as to whether the last 2 were rattlers, until I noticed they also tear off the rattlers. The one yesterday was about 6′ long, under the house, I thought a tornado’d hit me. Anyway, Jake has been bitten several times; last year his face actually fell off, was in the vet for 2 weeks. He has a big gap on the bridge of his nose. I was wondering if that could ever be repaired via surgery. Thanks for the input. DJMc

  5. Doc says:

    I’m not really a plastic surgeon, though I have done some successful reconstructions of some pretty big defects. The downside of the face is that there’s not a lot of loose skin. The upside is that it’s not under tension and moving around. I’ll bet that a good soft-tissue surgeon can do you some good. You might have to see a specialist, I suspect.

    Good luck.

  6. Brenda says:

    My Lab Roy was just bitten at least that is what I think happened. He was keeping his head down and his lips were swollen and tight. I gave him 2 Benadryl and I’m checking on him frequently. Keeping him cool and calm. I will take him to his Vet tomorrow. Any thing else that I can do until then?

  7. Doc says:

    Hello, Brenda,

    I hope that Roy has done well. Sorry about the late reply. I was out of the country for two weeks visiting my daughter who is a Peace Corps volunteer in Zambia. We had not seen her for 17 months.

  8. Doc says:

    Hello, Pimple-remedy,

    If the swelling continues, you just need to get your cat in to your veterinarian. Cats are hard to medicate, especially if they have facial discomfort.

    If the benadryl didn’t work, I don’t have another good choice for home remedies. Cat’s have such poor tolerance for so many different medications.

    Good luck.

  9. Katelin says:

    Nudges bit by a snake not sure what kind his leg is swollen no other symptoms though besides he can’t wallow long for the swelling to go down??

  10. Doc says:

    Hello, Katelin,

    If the swelling didn’t go down overnight, then I hope you sent to your veterinarian. Even when the swelling from the venom goes down, you can get an infection from the bite wound, just as you could from a cat-bite.

  11. Crystal Wade says:

    My dog got bit by a snake 3 days ago. At first the swelling was in her chest up to her mouth. Day 2 the swelling moved out of her chest and seemed to be all in her throat and mouth. Now say 3 its moving up to her left eye. Is it normal for this to happen before it gets better? I’ve been giving benadryl and baby asprin. She was eating up until day 2.

  12. Doc says:

    Hello, Crystal,

    My only experience is with copperhead snake bites. It is possible that more severe venoms behave considerably differently. You should consult your local veterinarian.

    Even when the venom has run its course, it is possible for the wound to become infected, as with a cat-bite or dog-bite.

  13. Micah Williams says:

    I REALLY need some good advice! My mother’s Blood Hound seems to have been bitten by something last weekend. They were in rural TN and they say she was really interested in inspecting a woodpile and refused to come in. They started the trip home to St. Louis later that day and by the time they made it home her right side of her face was significantly swollen so they took her to the ER (she had a fever of 106.5°). They kept her overnight and had her on IV fluids and antibiotics. She showed some improvement and was allowed to go home the next night with antibiotics and antihistamines. The next day no improvement and the following day the swelling became worse and spread to whole face and neck. She was taken to the ER and they sent her to the animal clinic Missou in Columbia. They’ve kept her there for the last 3 days and have tried antivenon and antibiotics but still no signs of improvement. PLEASE help! Can you give any advice? There’s no way to know exactly what happened but they think she was bit by a snake.

    • Doc says:

      Hello, Micah,
      You are in good hands at the University of Missouri. I’m not sure what type of snakes they have in that area of Tennessee. Where I live we have nothing worse than copperheads, and snakebites (though painful) are usually a short ordeal. Spider bites can be very trying, as there is death of tissue, and the patient just doesn’t really get better until that tissue dies and sloughs off. It takes a lot of support during that time.

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