Outcome of a Dog Bitten by a Copperhead

Copperhead coiled. CDC

I make many home visitations on people in my county here in Central Virginia, so it is only natural that I learn of many interesting developments in the area. Not the least of these in the summer of 2012 was the frequent incidence of a dog bitten by a copperhead.

2 Dogs 2 Copperhead Snakes

Although I know it is nothing unusual for a dog to be bitten by a wild animal—say a skunk or something similar—I was quite surprised to learn a friend’s very old Jack Russell was bitten by a copperhead on the side of the face. I was surprised because of the visual impact: I didn’t hear of it—I saw it. It was stark and gory and it hurt my heart to see “Beep” missing the side of his face! Surely he must die?

A Jack Russell terrier

Later, I visited a foster family that lived in a valley area encompassed by small creeks or rivers. They own two dogs—one some nondescript mixture—the other Chico, a Chihuahua. The Chihuahua was under sedation for having been bitten, not on the cheek, but above and below the right eye. By ever so bare a margin, the eye had not been struck. Can a dog so small as a Chihuahua survive such a bite?

A Spark of Hope

I was despondent, because these two dogs in particular were very dear to me. Small dogs may have their shortcomings, but no one can deny they possess “personality.” For that reason, I talked to a friend—the wife of a veterinarian—about the matter, inviting her to call with me at the home of Beep’s owners, an elderly couple.

She told us that small dogs are often bitten by copperhead snakes. Sometimes they die and sometimes they live—even if left untreated. The curious part is that if the dog is bitten in the head, it very likely will live! Especially so if a small amount of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is administered.

Return Visits

Time reveals all things. So it was that some weeks later, I visited the elderly couple. Beep not only lived; the raw meat of the cheek was covered by fresh skin and hair. She looked almost like her old self! She could go back to chasing squirrels away from the bird feeder, for which she was rewarded with bones.

Again, a visit to the foster family revealed an almost totally unscathed Chico. Two small dots remain—revealing the point of strike of the cursed copperhead. Who could have guessed such tiny animals could survive being bitten by a copperhead? It only goes to show each of us, we all—each and every one of us—have much to learn about life.

Note: You might also enjoy Do Black Snakes and Copperheads Crossbreed?


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  • Vincent Summers Reply

    Yesterday (6-23-2015) a friend mentioned two dogs bitten by the same copperhead. One was bitten in the body, one in the face. I suggested the one bitten in the face fared better. She said, no. I explained why I made the statement I did. She said the dog bitten in the body was given a warning bite, whereas the one bitten in the face was given the real bite. Makes sense. Both survived.

  • Amy Reply

    We were at camping at the beach about a week ago when a copperhead came from under our camper. Our daschund, which is 16 1/2 years old, got bit on the snout. I called his vet and he said to give him a benadryl. Then my son called his friend that hunts with dogs a lot, and he told me to mix up 2 eggs and some milk and let him drink it. His face was swollen, he acted like he couldn’t hold his head up for a little while. After I administered the benadryl, he was able to hold his head up and lap up the egg and milk mixture. The next morning, he was still swollen a little but it had went down some already. By day 2, he was back to normal.

    • Vincent Summers Reply

      Your response to my article really adds credence to what it says. If a 16-1/2 year old dog can survive a copperhead bite to the head with such dramatic effects, yet easily survive, almost anyone else’s dog should live through such an attack. Thank you for your comment.

  • Mary Reply

    My 10 year old Yorkie was bitten in October and she died! Even after a vet visit. She was bitten in the chest. We are devastated.

    • Vincent Summers Reply

      I am very sorry to hear that. A bite to the head, you would think, would be automatically fatal, but it’s the bite elsewhere that is most dangerous to your pet.

  • Prescott Small Reply

    Both of our dogs got Copperhead bites over the weekend. We did not see the strike but found the dead copper head with two dog bites to its body the same width as our Blue Healers mouth. She attacks anything that moves on the ground. My first wife worked at a veterinarian for years and I already knew that all you can do is wait, be patient and give benadryl. We were out so we gave them both an adult human dose of Allegra. The copper head was about 2 feet long and one dog has two bites to the head. and the other has one bite. The bite marks matched the width of the Copperheads head. Her entire head swelled up like a balloon but did fine with breathing and has shown zero symptoms of necrosis. The swelling was massive. We were worried but this is not abnormal for East Texas to have a dog get bit. They did great, a lot of resting day one, 48 hours later no sign of swelling , and are completely back to normal.

    • Vincent Summers Reply

      Lovely. A great testimony. Thank you for your visit.

  • Liss Reply

    Thank you for your informative article! My dog who was a stray that we found 7 months ago was bitten by a copperhead on June 6. The vet estimates she is 13 1/2 years old. She is a small feist only weighing 13 lbs. She was bitten right over the left eye. I immediately took her to the vet. She was very swollen. She got pain meds, ointment for the eye, Benadryl and much tlc and today looking good!

    • Vincent Summers Reply

      It’s amazing, frankly, that a dog bit by a copperhead in the region of the head usually lives. The age of your dog verifies the validity of the supposition!

  • Miro Reply

    Lexie, our 12 week old mix that I found on the side of the street was bit by a copperhead in the face just a few hours ago. I saw it happen, took her right away to the emergency vet. Her face swelled immediately. We will get a call around 1 a.m. We hope for the best!

    • Vincent Summers Reply

      I hope so, too. She has a good chance, statistically. A very good chance.

    • Vincent Summers Reply

      It is now 5 days later… Did your doggie survive? I sure hope so. Let us know. I, at least for one, hope the outcome is positive…

      • Miro Reply

        She was badly swollen in the face but the next day the swelling was already mostly gone and she was obviously doing much better. We kept her another day at the vet so she is not alone at home. Today, 10 days after the bite, she is as well as before the bite. It did cost us $1200 for the emergency vet and $200 for the regular vet… I don’t know if she would have survived only on Benadryl but I wouldn’t have wanted to take a chance and have a dead dog.

  • Tina Shelton Reply

    I’ve been reading your article looking for an answer for my Boston terrier named Piper. After two sleepless nights of her kicking me with her back feet, jumping out of bed and running through the house shaking her head I knew something was wrong. She vomited twice but I blamed it on her getting into leftover pulled pork that was thrown out. But this morning (day two) her foot is swollen. I took her to the vet yesterday and the only thing we determined was a little ear inflammation and redness. No foot swelling at that time. After thinking for awhile, my husband remembered her yelping when she was playing in the yard. He’s confused about what evening this happened. Do you think it’s a snake bite? Do you think she will be OK if she doesn’t go back to the vet? If she goes to the vet, what can they do to help her? We live in North Carolina so we have copperhead snakes. Is there a chance that she didn’t [receive] a full bite with lots of venom since it possibly took two days to swell? Does this even sound plausible? Thanks in advance.

    • Vincent Summers Reply

      Frankly, I’m not a veterinarian. Like you, I have a few ideas to evaluate. Right now the Yellow Jackets are becoming a problem, and they are in the ground. I just discovered two nests. The feet and the ears seem likely targets for those. A copperhead bit might still be possible, but I seriously doubt it. I believe response would have been quick and swelling prominent. I’d bank on the bees. It’s only a guess, but I’d say if the dog has survived thus far, it is likely to recover. Still, I’d talk it over with my vet.

      ETA: It is also possible your dog received a bite that had little or even no venom. Swelling could be due to infection. Lastly and most unlikely, dogs do occasionally develop brain tumors.

  • Tina Shelton Reply

    I wanted to give you an update just in case a reader might have the same question. To make a long story short, she eventually had swelling in three feet and swelling of the throat restricting breathing. We rushed her to the vet. They got it under control with Benadryl, antibiotics and some other inflammatory medication. We did find two puncture wounds on the right front foot consistent with a snake bite. The vet was confused because the foot with the most swelling had no signs of a snake bite. Today she has slight swelling but is doing great. I was so frantic that I didn’t see that this blog was from the science guy. LOL. I was asking all sorts of veterinarian questions. I guess that’s what mom’s do. Thanks so much for your response.

  • priscilla R Reply

    Our 6 month old, 30lb lab, was bitten by a copperhead a few hours ago on his left cheek right by his mouth. He immediately was showing symptoms that were unlike himself after coming in from outside (a goose egg bump, fast heart rate, and he laid down and closed his eyes – something my highly energetic lab puppy never does). I rushed him to the vet within 10 minutes from when I suspect the bite occurred and he had already completely swelled on the side of his face and had massive dilated pupils. The vet administered an IV with fluids, anti-inflammatory meds and pain meds. He is back home with us now and the swelling is continuing to fill up with fluid. We are bringing him back tomorrow for a re-check and more pain meds. I’m hopeful from this article that because it was a bite to his head, that he will recover smoothly and resilient. Our vet is a little hesitant that the fluid sac will ever go away.

    • Vincent Summers Reply

      I certainly hope you experience a positive outcome.

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