Warmer weather tends to bring life back to those who have enjoyed a wintery sleep. Animals, insects, plants, people and pets enjoy the new sunshine and longer days with play time outdoors. But in the grass, there could be a hidden danger to both humans and pets…snakes. With proper education, owners will be equipped to handle a snakebite situation, should one ever occur.

Venomous Snakes in WNC

In Western North Carolina there are two venomous snakes that we need to watch for. Being able to identify and tell the difference can be helpful in knowing how to react.

Copperhead – Heart-shaped head; thick, stout bodies; slit pupils; background color that varies from brown to orange (made to look like the forest floor); wide, irregular bands that tend to be darker than the background color.

Timber (Canebrake) Rattlesnake – A large, heavy-bodied, pinkish to blackish rattlesnake; dark, light-centered blotches and crossbands; belly is yellowish, pinkish, or cream with gray or black stippling; prominent rattle or enlarged “button” on the tip of the tail.

It is very important to try to remember any details about the snake if it has bitten a pet. Knowing which one better helps the veterinarian develop a treatment plan.

Snake Venom

How Snake Venom Works

  • It contains proteins and polypeptide enzymes
  • Theses proteins and enzymes break down tissue and cells
  • These broken down cells destroy red blood cells and causes the blood within the vessels to clot
  • This causes severe inflammation and tissue death
  • With the inflammation and death of the tissue, toxins are released that travel to the heart and the nervous system

Factors that Affect Potency of Venom and Severity of Reaction

  • Age of the snake
  • Amount of venom injected
  • Time lapse since the snake last released their venom
  • Size of the victim
  • Location of bite
  • Victim’s immune system and response
  • Activity of victim after bite (increased activity = increase spread)

Pets, most commonly dogs, are bitten on either the legs or their nose. Bites to the legs may not swell initially. Some will start swelling after the breakdown of tissue. This delay in swelling can lead to severe leg swelling, infection and surrounding tissue death. Bites to the nose are of major concern due to swelling causing obstruction to breathing.

Signs of Snakebite

Sometimes as owners, we may not actually see the snakebite but may assume it has happened. Here is a list of what to look for:

  • Fang Marks
  • Bleeding
  • Pain
  • Swelling

Less obvious symptoms

  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of coordination
  • Weak pulses
  • Increased heart rate
  • All over weakness
  • Shock

If you suspect that your pet has been bitten by a snake, please call your veterinarian as soon as possible and prepare to transport your pet to the nearest hospital. There are some simple steps you can take to help decrease the spread of venom.

  • Keep calm! Keep your pet calm as well as yourself
  • Decrease activity and movement
  • If you must walk your pet please move slow
  • You can wash the area with warm water and a mild soap – do not rub hard or vigorously
  • You can wrap the leg to help immobilize it, but be very careful not to wrap it too tightly
  • DO NOT use any ice – you can use a cold water compress
  • Watch for any changes in breathing, heart rate and alertness

No one likes a “snake in the grass” but preparing yourself and knowing what to do in a snakebite situation can make a huge difference for your beloved four-legged friends!