Snakebites

The most common venomous species of North Carolina include:

  • Rattlesnakes
  • Copperheads
  • Cottonmouths (water moccasins)
  • Coral snakes

Copperhead bites are by far the most common poisonous snakebite we see in North Carolina.

Preventing Snake Bites

  • Controlling your dog with a leash while outside may be your best preventative.
  • Do not allow your pet to explore holes in the ground or dig under logs, flat rocks or planks.
  • Stay on open paths where snakes are more visible.
  • Off-trail hiking with an unleashed dog may stir up a snake and you may be as likely a victim as your dog.
  • If your pet seems unusually curious about "something" hidden in the grass, investigate carefully

What are the signs of a venomous snakebite?

The clinical signs associated with a venomous snakebite vary based on the species of snake.  Extensive and painful swelling that often spreads rapidly is typical.  Bleeding or a bloody discharge at the site of the bite is common. The fang wounds may not be visible due to either the rapid swelling or the mouth size of small snakes.

The venom of rattlesnakes, water moccasins, & copperheads contains toxic proteins which produce effects both at the bite and throughout the body. These effects may include local tissue and blood vessel damage, destruction of red blood cells, bleeding or clotting disorders, and problems in the lungs, heart, kidneys or nervous system. A severe reaction can include shock, hypotension (low blood pressure), and severe pH imbalances.

How is a diagnosis of snakebite envenomization made?

Diagnosis is primarily made on medical history and clinical signs. If the type of snake is unknown, diagnosis and treatment will be directed at the clinical signs.

Should my pet be evaluated by a veterinarian?

Yes!  A veterinarian should evaluate your pet as soon as possible.  Snakebites are painful and your pet should be given pain medication.  Bites are very prone to infection so antibiotic are also a standard part of treatment.  Diagnostic tests may also be warranted to determine if your pet is experiencing any systemic effects from the venom.

What is the treatment for snakebite envenomization?

Copperhead bites are usually treated with pain medications and fluid therapy to counter potential hypotension or shock. Wounds are clipped/cleaned and monitored for signs of tissue death.  Antibiotics are given to prevent infection of the bite wound..  Antivenom is rarely indicated, but in certain cases such as a bite to the tongue or eye it may be a useful part of therapy

Rattlesnake and coral snake envenomization involves treatment for shock and administering appropriate antivenom. Rattlesnake envenomization is an immediately life-threatening situation and prompt medical assistance must be sought. Treatment to counter shock, low blood pressure, infection and respiratory distress is indicated in most cases. 

 The prognosis for snakebite depends on a host of factors:

  • the size and species of the snake
  • the location of the bite(s) and amount of venom injected - bites to the head and body tend to be more severe than to the legs.   Swelling from bites around the muzzle and face can lead to breathing difficulties due to airway obstruction.
  • the age, size, and health of the pet
  • individual susceptibility to the venom