Outcome of a Dog Bitten by a Copperhead

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Copperhead coiled. CDC

I make frequent 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 “Veep” 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 Veep’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?

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


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40 thoughts on “Outcome of a Dog Bitten by a Copperhead

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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

    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.

  • Prescott Small

    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.

  • Liss

    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!

  • Miro

    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!

      • Miro

        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.

  • 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.

    • 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 bite 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • Katie Moler

    My golden retriever was bitten 1 week ago today once on the neck and once on the throat. His whole face swelled up with fluid and his neck was hard as a rock and he ran a high fever and acted lethargic for 24 hours so we took him to the emergency vet hospital. They gave him amoxicillin and pain meds with an anti-inflammatory. I also gave him Benadryl (and still am) and today his spunky personality is back and the swelling and fever are gone. It’s been 7 days. When we were at the hospital they shaved his neck so we could see the bites and it wasn’t bad just puncture wounds until 3 days later… it was horrific. It continues to get worse every day. The swelling has gone but the wounds are horrible. The skin around the bites turned black and his whole neck is bruised. He’s been digging at it excessively that’s why I’m still doing Benadryl on a regular basis. It seeps and bleeds. He’s been back to the vet (our normal vet) and is expected to make a full recovery with the possibility of surgery to remove the dead tissue (worst case scenario). I’m currently emailing pics of it every day to the vet and they are monitoring him. I never thought a copperhead could do this much damage. Definitely a life lesson. But my beautiful sweet 81 lb. boy looks to be beating this and I’m so happy. He’s only 2 and my whole world! The worse thing I did was google copperhead bites on dogs. It gave me nightmares and panic because some of the pictures and stories freaked me out. However your story gave me hope and relief. So thank you. You were very accurate. Very thankful my story is a survival one!

  • Greg F.

    My dog Buddy, a Jack Russell mix was bit this morning at 4:30 am, I had just let him and Jojo out to relieve themselves when I heard excited barking, I pretty much expected a copperhead, as I live on 2 acres in the country. Sure enough, Buddy was trying to get it, and he had been bit at least once on the face. I stuck a couple of Benadryl down his throat. He is a little mopey, his face is swollen, but he is up and moving around. I wiped his wounds with Fish Mox, a penicillin for fish, it treats all external and internal illnesses and infections (Fish Mox is a brand name, although many companies make the same thing under different names). A friend told me about this after Buddy was attacked and had open wounds from a neighbor’s dog. I gave him a teaspoon a day, and soaked him in a tub with warm water and a couple of cups of Fish Mox. I had taken him to the Emergency Vet on Sunday after he had been attacked. They wanted to do exploratory surgery because of the bites to the abdomen, ($2500+) I said “no” and took him home and treated him. The next day Buddy was better; by day 3, he was 100%.

  • Gibo

    My Jack Russell got bit just seconds before I pulled him away. I killed the snake to photo ID it. Then I took the dog to the vet. He pulled through but his face was real swollen. I also killed a second copperhead just feet from the first one. When dog got home and recovered some, he headed straight out back to settle the score with the snake. Jack Russells are a bit mad… Sorry Dog. Both snakes were already done for. Dogs win 2-0.

  • Rydyr

    Your article gave me great hope when my own little dachshund was bitten on the muzzle by a copperhead. Initially we thought it was a bee sting because we had been killing wasps in and around the bed in the cabin we had rented for the weekend. We called the park rangers to come see about the bees and took the kids and the dogs down to the lake. 4 hours later the rangers still had not been to our cabin. My dog’s face was a little puffy but otherwise he was totally normal. I took a flashlight to look under the bed to see if the wasps had built a nest under it – imagine my surprise when the flashlight revealed a snake under there! We called the rangers back again and they were very prompt in responding this time. I also called my vet who referred me to the emergency clinic 4 hours away. It had already been nearly five hours since the time of the bite at this point and they didn’t feel antivenom would be an option. They also said give Benadryl for the swelling and watch for the following signs in order : Respiratory distress (usually within first hour) Cardiac arrest (anytime) Kidney failure ( as toxin works through body) and anemia. My dog did not exhibit any of these signs – he was eating like normal and peeing like a racehorse. We continued the Benadryl every 8 hours until swelling went down. By the third day he was totally normal! Our own vet confirmed this week he suffered no long term damage. My husband now calls him our ‘superdog’. Oh, and he was still looking for that snake after we got back in the cabin (rangers removed and killed it).

  • Kathy

    My boxer mix, Pennie, tangled with a copperhead, receiving several bites most severe in the upper chest. We immediately took her to the emergency vet. They administered Benadryl and two vials of anti-venom. We received a call saying they recommended hyperbaric oxygen treatment. She’s had three treatments. The doctor said she’s responding to the treatment. We’re waiting to hear back from the doctor. Hopefully we can bring her home. The good news is that Pennie is rolling over for her belly rubs. She’s won all the staff over. Dr. Old us there’s still the risk that her tissue may die off, we are praying for the best.

  • Cherie R

    I have a 2-1/2 year old Lhasa Apso that is curious and spunky. My husband had said he’d killed a copper head in the backyard about a week or so ago. They get under the deck out back and apparently one bit Harley near the snout last night. When he came in the house he seemed fine at first then he hid behind the chair in the living room. When I called him he came out very slowly and I could see that his snout was swelling. Finally after locating a vet about an hour’s drive away we packed Harley into the car and raced to the emergency vet. I had gotten on this site and did see the comments and was still on high alert while racing him to the vet’s office. They took him immediately and came back with a comprehensive workup to let us know the range of the bill. I’m very anti-pharmaceutical, I’ve researched antibiotics and did not want them to give him the anti-venom shot after she pointed out the chance of anaphylactic shock. The bill range was $2,300 to $4,300. They also wanted to keep him for 36 hours. I instead told them to do the CBC, fluids and pain medication; they never mentioned the Benadryl. I told them I would pick him up in the AM and take him to his regular vet. I picked him up this AM and they still had the IV needle taped so the fluids could be continued at my vet’s. The swelling had gone down a bit around his eyes but it seems to have swollen around his neck as well as his snout. The regular vet checked him and said that it was too late to give him the anti-venom (phew) I was more concerned about the side effects of that shot than the bite. They’re continuing to monitor him, giving him fluids, pain medication, and they may give him steroids to help reduce the swelling. He has to come home tonight and they may want me to bring him back in the AM for additional testing. I am HIGHLY suspect of doctors and vets and their agenda to load people and pets up with toxic pharmaceuticals. But Vincent, I am very glad to have found your site and I’m praying that Harley can come home for good tonight. I think this blog site was perfect for someone like me. I was out of my mind when I discovered the bite and I relaxed a bit after reading the stories of the other dogs mentioned above. Harley only weighs about 22 lbs. and they said they like to keep their eye on the smaller dogs. The bill at the emergency care was $1,120.00. I don’t know what his regular vet bill will be but he’s worth every penny! Thank you so much!

    • Cherie, You are very welcome, and your comment is much appreciated. I hope your dog does well in recovery. It’s pretty amazing that our little canine friends weather the storm so well. Of course, they may not always survive, and any strong body bite could give a much different outcome. Benadryl is certainly a medication we can be glad the medical profession developed. Time-tested drugs are what I prefer to take. I don’t want the cutting-edge medications dispensed to me, unless perhaps, there was little hope of my recovery otherwise.

  • Ivan

    Hello, our beloved dog Cooper 8 yrs old (Black – Schnauzer) was bitten by a copperhead on his leg. Took him to our vet immediately, he was treated with fluids & painkiller. Since our regular vet does not have overnight care, we transferred Cooper to a full care Vet facility. Cooper is recovering slowly. Vet Dr., is concerned with his leg, there is tissue damage and the bruising has expanded to his chest area. He recommended plasma transfusion
    which at this point we agreed. The cost so far $3K. We hope to take him home tomorrow night.

  • Donna

    I was led to this page because I believe my 85 lb dog was bitten by a copperhead. The last few days I’ve had problems getting him to go outside. I couldn’t understand what was wrong. He’s a rescue, about a year and a half who had been shot. He still has a lot of buckshot in him and it bothers him some. He also has skin allergies, itching and bites himself. I give him Benadryl and it gives him some relief. A few days ago he started chewing relentlessly on he’s backside, just above his tail and below his gunshot wound. We tried to see if he had a tick, or fleas because he was chewing himself raw. His eyes also looked glazed a bit. He was acting more clingy than usual. He really wouldn’t let us too close to the spot to see. So, I gave him Benadryl and he seemed better. While mowing the lawn where he goes out, we discovered a small snake, 2 days prior there was a nice size copperhead not far from there by the garage. I’m thinking he was bitten while squatting to relieve himself. 2 days of Benadryl and he’s back to normal except he won’t go in the yard there. We also found one in the goat area. Praying that they don’t get bit.

  • My ‘Chug’ named “Little Bear “was bitten by a copperhead 3 or 4 hours ago. We went to the emergency veterinarian hospital in Savannah Georgia. He was prescribed antibiotics and pain medication. He is home, being monitored and kept comfortable, mostly due to the cost of the antivenom and 24hr hospital care. I’ve decided to add benadryl after reading these posts. Thank you for the advice and stories. Wish us luck.

  • Robyn Mills

    My name is Robyn.

    I recently moved to Spring Lake, North Carolina, from upstate New York. We didn’t have copperheads there, in fact in the area we lived there were no venomous snakes to be heard of. I think the timber rattler was known to live there, but just not in [our immediate vicinity]. I have a 3 year old, 6 lb. Chihuahua male that doesn’t know better. I live in a very rural area and the place we rented has been — unloved I’ll say — for some time. Woody, overgrown, etc. I worry very much about Bruce, our dog. He has a rather unusual potty thing he does that scares me, too. He likes to do his business up against brush or high grass, while lifting one hind leg up in the air. I’ve never seen any other dog do this but this is our little Bruce!

    I fear he’ll go right into prime snake territory just wanting to potty. I am uninformed and ignorant as to copperheads and what to really look for, prepare for, etc.

    Any help would be amazing!
    I love Bruce to pieces and would be destroyed if any harm comes to him.

    Thank you.

    • Robyn,

      Unfortunately, I’m not an expert in herpetology, or I’d tell you what to look for. Even though I can’t speak with authority, I can tell you copperheads are not like rattlers. Rattlers usually give warning (at least, to people). Copperheads do not. So in that way, they are probably more dangerous to humans. They may be within a couple of feet from you and go unseen in the grass. One time, for instance, my wife was weed eating and did not see a copperhead until she had weed eaten it to death! You might want to check out an appropriate site. I’ll provide one possible URL: https://herpsofnc.org/

  • Mary

    Our 11 yr old rescue Terrier (who has been shot and run over prior to his adoption) got bitten by a Copperhead in our backyard, we think. We were away and a neighborhood teen was watching our dogs (3). At first we thought it was a hotspot on his tail (and that is what Vet said) but it continued to get worse and turned black and now we’re being told it was in all likelihood a copperhead. He’s been on antibiotics, prednisone, gabapentin, and antiseptic spray. Vet cleaned the wound and we are to bring him back again in a few days. He may need a procedure to remove the dead tissue once he’s better. He only weighs 20 lbs and is not eating and acting very sick, lethargic, and yelping when we pick him up (which we have to do as he won’t go up/down stairs right now). I am so worried about him! We live in Maryland. Very worried as all 3 of our dogs use the fenced backyard to relieve themselves and our kids like to be back there too. Getting a snake trapper to come out to the house . . .

  • olga

    Hi. What chance would a 5 lb Chihuahua have if bitten by a copperhead? We have an app for our community called Next-Door and people just keep posting warning messages about copperheads in our area. I am afraid my 2 Chis can get in trouble. Thank you.

  • Stephanie

    Thank you for writing this article! My dog was bitten by something earlier and we weren’t sure what it was, but after googling for a few minutes we learned that the copperhead was most likely her attacker. I was VERY nervous about her swelling, but after reading this and learning that most face-bitten dogs survive I am much calmer!

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