Venomous Snake Bites

2015-10-09

Did you know that North Carolina has the largest number of venomous snakebites of all the states(1)? Most of these bites come from Copperheads; thankfully Copperhead bites are typically not fatal. North Carolina is host to 6 species of venomous snakes (Copperheads, Water Moccasins, Canebrake Rattlesnakes, Pigmy Rattlesnakes, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnakes, and Coral Snakes). The two types of venomous snakes most likely to be found in our area of North Carolina include Copperheads and Canebrake Rattlesnakes; Copperheads are much more common(3).

As fall season settles in, we have been hearing of an increased number of copperhead bites in dogs in the Greensboro area, especially at several of the local emergency clinics.  

While copperheads are nocturnal during the summer, they are diurnal in the spring and fall(2).  Additionally, they mate in the spring and fall which can increase a male’s level of aggression. Pets can be naturally curious about snakes they might encounter, or they may even stumble upon a snake without realizing it. Given the copperhead’s markings and coloration, these snakes are perfectly suited to blend into the natural surroundings, especially in the fall with all the leaves.

You can help minimize the chances of a snake encounter with some of the following tips:

  • Survey an outdoor area before letting your dog off leash
  • Keep dogs on a leash whenever possible
  • Avoid letting your dog out in tall grass
  • Keep your dog from running off of designated hiking paths as much as possible

If your pet is bitten by a snake, you should always seek veterinary care. Non-venomous snakes can create wounds that can become infected. While venomous snakes will sometimes “dry bite” and not inject venom, as a general rule you should consider any venomous snakebite as a medical emergency for your pet. Venomous snake bites can have local effects (e.g., pain, bleeding, swelling, infection, necrosis) as well as systemic effects (effects on clotting, cardiotoxins, neurotoxins, shock symptoms, to name a few). Snake venom effects will be dependent on factors such as snake species, the amount of venom injected, the location of the bite, the number of bites, or the individual patient’s immune response.

We encourage you to be watchful during this fall season as the temperatures fluctuate and snakes have not yet migrated to their dens!

  1. NC State University / A&T University Cooperative Extension – How Dangerous are Copperhead Snakes
  2. Smithsonian National Zoological Park
  3. NC State University / A& T University Cooperative Extension– Venomous Snakes​

Author: Dr. C. Noureddine, DVM, MS

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