Have you seen some slithery neighbors while hiking or working in yard? Spring, summer, and fall are when snakes are most active in Western North Carolina. As a pet parent, it’s a good idea to be aware of the types of snakes we have in the area, as well as what to do in the event of a bite.
Snakes are often portrayed as dangerous and harmful, however WNC is home to many beneficial and non-venomous snakes. There are two types of venomous snakes in the area, copperheads and timber rattlesnakes, which can be harmful to pets and people. These snakes are part of the pit viper family, meaning they have heat-sensing openings between the eye and nostril, triangular heads, retractable fangs, and vertical pupils rather than round. Luckily, with only two venomous species, it’s not difficult to learn to identify them as well as learn their habits and habitats to minimize risk.
Follow this link to learn more about all the species of snakes found in North Carolina.
Can snake bites be prevented?
Unfortunately, no. You can, however, limit your pets’ exposure to snakes by avoiding brushy areas or areas of long grass where visibility is limited. Avoid disturbing cool, dark areas under sheds, rocks, or rubble. Keep your yard free of long grass, piles of wood or any other structures that would provide protection to snakes. Limiting the snake food population (mice, rats, nesting birds, lizards) may deter snakes from your property. Keeping your dog on a leash and using a flashlight at night can help prevent disturbing a snake at night.
If my pet has been bitten by a snake previously will the next bite be less severe?
No. A previous bite does not protect against a future reaction. It also doesn’t guarantee the same reaction as the first bite.
What do I do if my pet is bitten by a snake?
- Keep yourself safe. Do not try to handle or kill a snake as this is the most common occurrence for human snake bites.
- Identify the snake if possible. Killing the snake or bringing it to the vet is not necessary, but if you are able to safely snap a photo that may be helpful in identifying the species of snake.
- Keep the pet as calm and quiet as possible.
- Do not apply a tourniquet or apply ice. Do not incise (cut) the wound or attempt to aspirate (draw out) the venom. Do not wash the area.
- If you have access to the homeopathic remedies Ledum, Lactasis, or Arnica, they may be useful.
- Seek medical attention immediately, even if the snake is non-venomous or the pet has received the rattlesnake vaccine. Even non-venomous snake bites typically require medical attention to manage bruising, swelling, infection, and pain.
- A venomous or suspected venomous snake bite is an emergency, the sooner the pet receives medical attention the more likely successful treatment and survival become.
- If you suspect a venomous snake bite, limit the pet’s mobility. Carry the pet or use a pet crate as this will limit the movement of venom through the body.
We have received many questions about the canine rattlesnake vaccine. The canine rattlesnake vaccine is comprised of venom components from Crotalus atrox (Western Diamondback Rattlesnake). This vaccine may be potentially useful for dogs that frequently encounter rattlesnakes, but currently we are unable to recommend this vaccine because of insufficient information regarding the efficacy of the vaccine in dogs as well as its effectiveness in regards to the Timber Rattlesnake, which is the rattlesnake in our region, or the Copperhead.
We currently do not offer this vaccine for a number of reasons, but we believe that pet parents should make the most informed decisions for their pets. If you are interested in the canine rattlesnake vaccine, we can recommend some local clinics that do offer that service. Please be aware that owners of vaccinated dogs must still seek veterinary care immediately after any snake bite because antibody titers may be overwhelmed in cases of severe envenomation and an individual dog may lack sufficient protection depending on the response to the vaccine. Recommendations for booster vaccination are still under development, but it appears that adequate titers do not extend past one year after vaccination. Adverse reactions appear to be low and similar to other vaccines on the market. The USDA product license is currently conditional as efficacy and potency have not been fully demonstrated. Based on what existing data that is, Riversong does not currently recommend the rattlesnake vaccination and it is not stocked in our pharmacy.
For more information regarding the rattlesnake vaccine, see http://www.redrockbiologics.com/.
Why are snakes called venomous and not poisonous?
Some snakes are specialized to develop venom and have the equipment (fangs, venom sacs, etc.) to deliver the venom to prey. To be considered venomous implies a toxin was injected. Poisonous, on the other hand, refers to a toxin which is ingested such as an unidentified wild mushroom.