Coral Snakebite Poisoning (Elapid Envenomation) in Dogs

Key takeaways

Elapid envenomation occurs when a dog is bitten by a snake from the elapid family (e.g. coral snakes).

  • Different species of coral snakes can be found across the southern US, Australia, and Asia
  • Elapid venom causes muscle paralysis -including paralysis of the muscles that support breathing- and can be fatal
  • Venomous snake bites are always an emergency
  • Symptoms include muscle weakness, paralysis, and rapid breathing
  • Diagnosis is usually based on clinical signs and known or suspected exposure to snakes
  • The best, most effective treatment for elapid venom is antivenin (antivenom)
  • Most cases have a favorable prognosis with appropriate treatment
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A closer look: Coral Snakebite Poisoning (Elapid Envenomation) in Dogs

Elapid envenomation is a concern for dog owners living in regions where coral snakes are found, but elapid bites are rare.

Elapid snake bites are an emergency, as their venom contains toxins that prevent respiratory muscles from contracting. Dogs with suspected venomous snake bites need immediate medical attention.

Risk factors

The likelihood of occurrence is relative to the geographic range of elapid snake species. This class of snakebite is much less commonly reported than pit viper (rattlesnake, or crotalid) envenomation.

Possible causes

Elapid envenomation results when a dog is bitten by a snake from the elapid family. The most common species of elapid snakes in the US and Australia are:

  • Coral snakes (Southern United States)
  • Black snakes (Australia)
  • Brown snakes (Australia)
  • Taipans (Australia)
  • Tiger snakes (Australia)

Elapids have short fangs and deliver neurotoxic venom.

Main symptoms

Elapid snakebites typically have minimal pain and swelling at the bite location.

Dogs with suspected venomous snake bites require immediate veterinary attention.

Testing and diagnosis

If the snake bite is witnessed, the diagnosis is self-evident. Identification of the species of snake involved may help expedite appropriate treatment.

As with any penetrating wound, the veterinarian will first shave and clean the area of the snake bite thoroughly. Elapid snake bites often require:

  • Supportive care, such as fluids, mechanical breathing on a ventilator, anti-seizure medications
  • Antivenin (antivenom), if available

Coral snake (elapid) antivenin is no longer manufactured in the United States, making it unavailable to most practitioners in North America. Elapid antivenin is widely available in Australia.

Symptoms of elapid envenomation may take up to 48 hours to fully develop, so inpatient monitoring is advised until it is evident the dog’s condition is not deteriorating.

Steps to Recovery

The outcome of a snake bite depends on the species of snake, location of the bite, quantity of venom delivered, size of the dog, and how rapidly treatment was implemented. Specific identification of the biting snake may improve prognosis, as an appropriate antivenom can be selected, where available.

Prognosis for elapid envenomation in dogs is fair to good with rapid treatment. Dogs who develop more serious complications like aspiration pneumonia have a worse prognosis. Muscle tissue damage after envenomation may take months to resolve in some cases.


Snakebite envenomation is not contagious. Snakebite envenomation is prevented by avoiding contact with poisonous snakes.

Is Coral Snakebite Poisoning (Elapid Envenomation) in Dogs common?

Globally uncommon, but likelihood of occurrence is relative to the geographic range of elapid snake species. Elapid envenomation is primarily reported in Australia and the southern United States.

Typical Treatment

  • Antivenin (antivenom) - where available
  • IV fluids
  • Supplemental oxygen
  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Supportive care