7 Facts About Snakes and Lizards Dog Owners Should Know

By W. Jean Dodds, DVM

Hemopet would like to thank Nigel Robert of More Reptiles for writing this guest post.

Snakes and lizards are not a major threat to your dog’s health, but they can cause problems if your dog encounters the wrong one at the wrong time.

Read on to find out a little bit more about what to be concerned about and how to protect your dog on walks.

#1. Most snakes do not pose a serious threat to your dog, as most North American snakes are not highly venomous. Their bites may be painful, but they are unlikely to cause serious or life-threatening symptoms in your dog. If you live in the Northeast or the Midwest, you are unlikely to encounter any venomous snakes at all. In the Southeast, water moccasins and eastern diamondback rattlesnakes are venomous, while the western diamondback rattlesnake is found in the Southwest. Even these snakes, however, will not see a fully grown dog as prey and will only bite your dog in self-defense, as a last resort.

#2. Snakes will only bite your dog if it harasses them. As stated above, even the largest snakes in North America will not see an adult dog as prey, except perhaps for very small breeds like Chihuahuas. Snakes, especially venomous ones, are very reluctant to bite animals they do not see as prey, since producing venom requires a lot of energy and they do not want to waste it. Keep your dogs on a short lead while walking in the woods, and watch them carefully in the yard, so you can remove them as quickly as possible from any encounter with a snake.

#3. Snakes love to hide in tall grasses and thick brush. Snakes are ambush predators, and many other animals see them as prey, so they love to hide, especially in thick vegetation. Mowing your grass regularly and clearing out potential snake hidey-holes, like low brush, woodpiles, and other shadowy places, will help protect your dogs while they are in your yard. While out walking, try to keep your dogs from sniffing around in tall grass or any place where you cannot see what they might be sniffing at before it is too late.

#4. Many common lizards, including most newts and salamanders, are poisonous and can be toxic to dogs. Dogs love to explore the world tongue-first, and as such it is not surprising how often they get into scraps with lizards, scraps which usually end with a lizard in a canine stomach. This is fun for your dog, but it can also have serious side effects. Fortunately, even most poisonous lizards are too small and their poisons too mild to have a serious effect on your dog, but it is possible. If you suspect your dog has eaten a lizard, watch for signs of toxicity, like vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, excessive thirst, or erratic movements. If you notice any of these symptoms, contact your vet as soon as possible.

#5. Most lizards carry Salmonella spp. and can pass it on to dogs. Salmonella exposure is a bigger threat to a lizard-swallowing dog than toxicity, but even here the risk is relatively low. Almost any lizard your dog swallows will be a carrier for Salmonella spp., but this bacterial exposure is not likely to be a danger to a healthy adult dog. (If your dog is a puppy, has a pre-existing condition, or is otherwise in poor health, the risk is greater.) The protocol for Salmonella exposure is the same as the one described above for lizard toxicity: Watch for symptoms, then contact your vet if you notice any. Common symptoms of Salmonella spp. include vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and swollen lymph nodes.

#6. Lizard bites can cause your dog discomfort, but they are unlikely to be venomous. Many lizards are poisonous, meaning they can cause toxicity in an animal that eats them, but very few are venomous, meaning they do not inject toxins into an animal they bite. When your dog tries to eat a lizard, the lizard may bite back, usually on the dog’s tongue, mouth, or nose. This can cause swelling and discomfort for your dog, but is highly unlikely to become a serious problem. If the swelling lasts more than a few days or does not appear to be improving, consult a veterinarian.

#7. Depending on where you live, some lizard bites can cause serious problems for your dog. This part is really only important for dog owners living in or visiting the American Southwest. The southwestern deserts are home to Gila monsters, the largest and only venomous lizard native to North America. Recognizable for their black and orange beaded skin and growing up to two feet long, Gila monster bites pack about the same punch as a rattlesnake bite. Gila monsters are even less likely to bite than rattlesnakes, though, unless they are being aggressively aggravated. If a Gila monster does bite your dog, you will likely need to use pliers or even a flame held under their chin to get the lizard to release its jaws.

Overall, lizards and snakes can cause some health problems for your dog, but they are probably less of a cause for worry than, say, your dog swallowing a bottle of eye drops. Caution while walking and letting your dog out in the yard, and keeping a careful eye on your dog’s behavior to watch for sudden changes, are probably all you need to keep your dog safe from the various reptiles you might encounter together.

CREDIT: W. Jean Dodds, DVM | Hemopet / NutriScan | 11561 Salinaz Avenue | Garden Grove, CA 92843