Snakes and How to Keep Your Pet Safe

Pop quiz time – you are walking with your dog in the woods and come upon a snake.

Would you be able to tell a venomous snake from one of the harmless varieties?  Would you know what to do if it was a venomous snake and your pet was bitten?  Here are some answers we hope will help!

Copperheads are one of the most common types of venomous snakes. There are, however, many more species of non-venomous snakes than there are venomous ones.  Copperheads are member of the venomous snake group called crotalids, which belong to the pit viper family and include rattlesnakes, and water moccasins (also known as cottonmouths). These snakes have the classic triangular-shaped head, cat-like eyes (vertical pupils), and tend to be heavy bodied.  Copperheads can be found across North America and are responsible for more bites in most years than any other snake species in the U.S.  Many of these bites occur when people try to kill the snake or pick it up.

Here is a picture of a non-venomous Northern Water Snake, which is also common, in and out of water, and a copperhead.  You can see the difference in coloring and the shape of the head.

When a venomous snake encounters a human or a pet, its first instinct is not to attack and bite but to flee.  Snake venom allows a snake to catch small prey animals. A snake will only use venom in self-defense if it feels threatened. A copperhead does not always release venom with every bite.  Sometimes they may “dry bite” and not release venom.


What are some of the signs that your pet has been bitten?

A dog or cat that has been bitten will have a lot of pain at the site of the bite.  Bites most often occur on the muzzle or a limb. You may be able to see two puncture wounds from the fangs.  You will also see redness and swelling around the bite site.  Your pet may become weak, lethargic and vomit, but these signs are not always present.

If you suspect your pet has been bitten, you should contact your veterinarian immediately.  You do not need to kill the snake to identify it.  This can put you at risk and is not necessary for treatment.  The best thing to do is keep your pet calm, keep the bite site below heart level if possible and get him or her to a veterinary facility as soon as possible.

If your pet is brought in for attention quickly, chances are very good for a complete recovery.  Treatments may include pain medication, intravenous fluids,  and if needed, antibiotics.  Blood tests are run to see the amount of systemic effects from the bite. Some severe bites may need to be given anitvenom. The majority of pets will be uncomfortable and have swelling at the site and will be kept for observation and care for 12-24 hours. They usually go home with medications when they are stable and the pain is manageable.


What steps can you take to prevent your pet from being bitten by a snake?  

Snakes can often be found basking in sunny warm places like rocks, so be careful in these areas.  They also hide under rocks, wood and logs, so be careful reaching into such areas and allowing your pets to explore these areas. Keep logs, debris, large rocks off your property to discourage snakes.  Wear heavy gloves and boots when working in your yard to protect yourself as well. If you are in an area you think snakes may be present, it is best to keep your pets on a leash. Avoid night time walks and if your pet seems unusually interested in an area, try to keep him or her under control and get them away from it.

If despite your best efforts to avoid them you encounter a snake, it is best to keep your pet under control and stop moving.  Allow the snake to leave or change your path to avoid it. If you are not sure if a snake is venomous, assume that it is and avoid it.

We hope this provides you with helpful information to keep your pets safe!


The blog originally appeared on with permission to adapt for reposting. 


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