Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker

Snake Smarts

Know how to respond if your dog is bitten by a snake, as well as how to prevent bites

By Kim Campbell Thornton

Andrews McMeel Syndication

Bandit, a Jack Russell terrier in California, was fighting for his life after being bitten in the face by a rattlesnake. The location of the bite posed a significant challenge for the dog’s survival, his veterinarian said.

Depending on where you are in the country, it’s not too early to start thinking about snake encounters if you and your dog enjoy the outdoors. A mild and wet winter across the country has snakes ready to leave hibernation and start eating and breeding.

According to a study by California and Colorado researchers published in the journal Clinical Toxicology in 2018, snakebites peaked following rainy seasons and were at their lowest during drought periods. Rain brings more prey for snakes, and a plentiful food source encourages them to mate.

That means people and pets are more likely to run into them in backyards and on hiking trails. Arizona and California officials have already begun issuing snake warnings.

The good news is that snakes do their best to avoid encounters with humans or dogs.

The bad news is that a bite even from a nonvenomous snake can be painful and lead to infections, says Jason Nicholas, DVM, chief medical officer of And the toxin from venomous snakes creates blood-clotting abnormalities in dogs, as well as potential secondary bacterial infections from the puncture wound.

Many dogs are bitten on the face or neck after sticking their noses where they don’t belong. “That’s the worst place to get bitten,” Dr. Nicholas says. The inflammation can cause swelling around the airway, making it difficult for the dog to breathe.

No matter where on the body a dog is bitten, keep him still. Carry him to reduce the rate at which the venom circulates through the bloodstream, or have him walk slowly if he’s too big to carry. Running can potentially make matters worse, Nicholas says. Get him to the veterinarian right away.

Bandit’s owner Jill-Marie Jones heard the snake rattling and saw that her dog’s head was tilted and his face was swelling. “We blasted to the vet, and on my way, I called and made sure they had the antivenin and were ready to go. The catheter and meds were started probably not even 15 minutes after he was bitten,” she says.

For rattlesnake or other venomous snake bites, a veterinary emergency hospital is the best choice unless you know your veterinarian stocks antivenin. It’s a good thing to check if you and your dog spend a lot of time outdoors in snake country.

“It’s not cheap, but it can be a significant component of treatment and decrease the overall time that a pet would maybe need to stay in the ICU and decrease complications resulting from the bite,” Nicholas says.

If you live in an area where snakes are common, it’s important to teach your dog to avoid them. This can be done with a strong “leave it,” “wait,” “look here” or “come” cue. You can also work with an experienced trainer who performs snake-aversion training. This is often done with an electronic collar set on low, but some trainers use positive reinforcement techniques to teach “leave it” or “watch me” behaviors in the presence of a snake or other hazard.

When you see a snake -- venomous or not -- leave it alone. Wherever you live, snakes are important to the ecosystem. They help to keep down disease and property or crop damage by eating mice, rats and other rodents and are themselves prey for other animals. Venomous snakes encountered in your home or yard should be removed and relocated by a professional snake handler. Learn the species in your area so you’ll know which snakes are harmless.

Bandit was hit hard by the bite. His veterinarian confessed that he’d thought the 10-year-old dog had no chance. But antivenin, IV antibiotics and intensive supportive care saved his life.


What does ‘pet

quality’ mean?

Q: I’m buying a pedigreed kitten, and the breeder is recommending one she says is “pet-quality,” since I don’t plan to show her. Is that a good idea? I’m paying a lot of money, so I don’t want one who’s not as good as the others.

A: Just because a kitten is “pet-quality” doesn’t mean that he or she is second-rate. It simply means that the kitten isn’t suitable for the show ring or for breeding. That can be for any number of reasons, usually cosmetic. Her markings might not be perfect, or her eyes might not be the exact shade that makes a kitten or cat stand out to a judge. Factors that can be important in the show ring include size, symmetry, coat length, and depth of eye or coat color.

In Norwegian forest cats, for instance, a head profile with a slight dip instead of being perfectly straight can make all the difference. Flaws that prevent an Abyssinian or Somali from being show-quality include tabby stripes on the legs, necklace lines on the neck, coloring that looks cool instead of warm, a kink in the tail or eyes that are almond-shaped instead of round. For Russian blues, basic disqualifiers are the wrong eye color, a white locket on the throat, lack of silver tipping or poor ear placement. A sparse, patchy coat without the right texture can put Devon rex cats out of the show-ring running.

It’s not always a cosmetic flaw. Sometimes breeders have too many kittens from a certain bloodline and can’t use them all in a show or breeding program, so some get “petted out.”

None of these things detract from a kitten’s health or ability to be a great pet, so take a pet-quality kitten home with no fear. -- Kim Campbell Thornton

Do you have a pet question? Send it to or visit


Pets do not

spread COVID-19

-- Although a pet dog in China was found to have developed a low-level infection of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the novel coronavirus) through contact with his owner, the dog has not developed any illness. Health experts say that dogs and cats who contract the virus are unlikely to become sick themselves or to transmit it to other humans or animals. It’s fine to keep snuggling with your pets -- especially if you’re anxious about catching the virus yourself -- but any time you are sick with anything, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends having someone else care for your animals.

-- You probably know that the sweetener xylitol is highly toxic to pets. What you might not know is all the different types of products in which it’s found. When you’re shopping, check labels for xylitol in peanut and other nut butters; protein bars; toothpaste (one of the reasons not to brush pets’ teeth with toothpaste for humans), even if it’s labeled “natural”; chewing gum; candy; mints; antacids; melatonin; flavored fish oil supplements; sleep aids; chewable vitamins and probiotics; and even body butters and moisturizers that your pet might lick off your skin. Check anything that’s flavored or labeled as sugar-free.

-- The world’s first cloned cat has died at age 18 from kidney failure. CC, short for Copy Cat, was born Dec. 21, 2001, at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences and was adopted by Dr. Duane Kraemer and his wife Shirley, with whom she spent her entire life. Beyond being a beloved pet, CC proved that cloning could effectively produce a healthy animal capable of living a full life and producing offspring. CC had one litter of three kittens, all of whom were kept by the Kraemers. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet care experts headed by “The Dr. Oz Show” veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker, founder of the Fear Free organization and author of many best-selling pet care books, and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. Joining them is behavior consultant and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.