Surviving Snake Season Safely

Springtime means warm weather, long days, and more opportunities to get out in the woods or in our yards. Unfortunately, spring also means more opportunities for humans and their pets to encounter snakes. The most common poisonous snake in Western North Carolina is the copperhead, although rattlesnakes, water moccasins and coral snakes are also seen in the area.

Copperheads spend most of their time in cover, including wood piles, rock piles, tall grass, piles of leaves, or thickets. According to the Ohio Public Library Information Network, copperheads are usually out and about during the day in the spring and fall, but during the summer they become nocturnal. They especially like being out on humid, warm nights after rain. While they usually stay on the ground, copperheads will sometimes climb into low bushes or trees in search of prey or to bask in the sun. Sometimes, they even voluntarily go swimming. Their color and pattern provides excellent camouflage, making it easy to stumble upon them without seeing them. While they don’t typically bite aggressively, they do bite without warning as a defensive mechanism.

Many of the copperhead bites we see in dogs are on the face, as a curious dog pokes his nose into a nest, or on the feet and legs where the dog has accidentally stepped on the snake or into its hiding place. Since the best way to deal with snake bites is to avoid them altogether, here are some tips for prevention:

  1. Keep your dog on a close leash in the woods and on trails.
  2. Check for snakes before picking up sticks or logs.
  3. Keep an eye on the trail. If you see a snake, don’t try to move it or provoke it. Just avoid it or let it pass.
  4. If you’re walking in tall grass, take a stick with you and make noise to scare snakes away.
  5. In your yard, trim tall grass, remove piles of wood and other debris, and clean up under fruit trees to reduce the rodent population (rodents attract snakes).
  6. At night, use a flashlight to check for snakes before letting your dog out.

If your dog is unfortunate enough to be bitten by a snake, he needs to receive medical attention as soon as possible. The most frequent sign of a snake bite is acute pain and swelling of the affected area. You will sometimes see puncture wounds from the bite. There is no way to tell how much venom was delivered by the bite, so all snake bites should be seen by a veterinarian. Whether the bite is life-threatening or not, a veterinarian can assess the severity and determine appropriate treatment which can include pain medication, antibiotics, antivenin, and fluid therapy. Animal Hospital of North Asheville has antivenin in stock, and is open from 7:30 AM until 8:30 PM every weekday, and from 8 AM until 5 PM on Saturday. If a snake bite occurs during a time when we are not open, please take your dog to the nearest veterinary emergency hospital for care.

Tips for what to do if your pet is bitten:

  1. Venom: Not all snakes are venomous, but those that are can be fatal to a dog that doesn’t get the necessary treatment in time. A snake’s venom potency can be affected by everything from its size and age, to the time of year, location of the bite, and the amount of movement by the victim after the bite (as movement increases the venom’s spread).
  2. Identify the snake: If you’re in the area when your dog is bitten, try to get a good look at the snake. Knowing what species of snake bit your beloved friend might just save their life.
  3. Get to the Vet: You MUST seek veterinary assistance as soon as you realize your dog has been bitten. Restrict their movement as much as possible and loosely immobilize the limb if they’ve been bitten on a paw or leg. Keep them as calm and comfortable as possible on the trip over.
  4. Important Don’ts: Don’t cut the wound hoping it will drain the venom. Don’t attempt to suck out the venom. Don’t apply a tourniquet. Don’t apply ice to the area.
  5. Follow up: Even if your dog isn’t showing any serious signs at the moment, it’s important to closely monitor them for adverse reactions for at least 12 hours. If there are clinical signs, the observation window goes up to 48 to 72 hours.

(This helpful list was taken from the Animal Rescue Site)

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