A slithery snake bit your four-legged friend.
With summer in full swing, many dog owners will take their pets out on adventures to the state’s many parks. But as the warmer temperatures entice dogs to go outside and play, they also encourage more snakes to show their scaly heads, creating potential risk.
Of the 38 species of snakes in South Carolina, six are venomous, including the Copperhead, Cottonmouth, Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake, Timber Rattlesnake, Pigmy Rattlesnake and Coral Snake, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.
But even if you think you know the snake that bit your dog isn’t venomous, it’s best not to take any chances.
Here is what veterinarians recommend pet owners should know and do if they believe their dog has been bitten by a snake.
Snake bite severity
According to the Charleston Veterinary Referral Center, the size of the pet and location of the venomous bite will determine the severity. Dogs are most commonly bitten in the face, tongue, eyes and neck. Bites in these areas are more serious since the venom is often delivered directly into the victim’s bloodstream. Also, adult snakes and juveniles may inject different amounts of venom
What to do if your dog is bitten
- Tissue swelling begins within minutes. Other tell-tale signs can be excessive drooling, foaming at the mouth and sudden tiredness.
- Keep the dog as quiet as possible. Activity increases the distribution of the venom.
- Seek veterinary care immediately. Appropriate veterinary care includes pain management, infection prevention, anti-inflammatory therapy, antivenom administration and management of any other concurrent problems such as open wounds or blood clotting disorders.
- Several hours of veterinary observation is recommended to ensure the animal is OK after treatment of the snake bite.
Snake bite treatments to avoid
- There are several “old wives tales” regarding treatment of venomous snakebites at home or in the field. These include: Application of ice to the bite site to constrict blood vessels and slow spread of the toxin.
- Making cuts in the skin near the bite wound to encourage the toxin to be “bled” from the body.
- Directly sucking on the wound to try to draw the venom out through where it entered.
- Applying a tourniquet to the limb above the bite to contain the toxin and prevent its spread through the body.
However, research has shown that these steps do not improve outcome and rather can cause worse illness or make treatment more difficult in the long run. Instead, immediate and aggressive evaluation and treatment by a veterinarian is advised.
Most snake bites in pets are to the face, neck, and limbs in animals that are sniffing around objects where snakes tend to hide. To avoid these chance encounters, keep these tips in mind.
- Keep your yard tidy by clearing away undergrowth, toys, and tools that make great hiding places for snakes.
- Keep walkways clear of brush, flowers and shrubs.
- Clean up any spilled food, fruit or bird seed, which can attract rodents-and therefore snakes-to your yard.
- When walking pets, keep them on a leash.
- Steer your pet clear of long grasses, bushes, timber, and rocks which provide camouflage.
- Snakes can strike across a distance equal to about half their body length. If you see a snake, head back the way you came.
- Familiarize yourself with snakes who are common in your area. In the event of a bite, identifying the type of snake may help with your pet’s treatment.
Venomous South Carolina snakes
- Copperhead: These are found in both wet and dry hardwood forests. They’re light brown to pinkish in color with darker, saddle-shaped crossbands. Markings are shaped like Hershey’s kisses from the side.
- Cottonmouth: These are found in every type of wetland habitat but they travel across land in search of food. They can vary in color. Their backs may be brown or olive with darker crossbands. The belly is dull yellow and brown and the underside of the tail is usually black.
- Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake: These are found mostly in dry terrestrial habitats but also wet areas. Their basic color is light to dark with distinct diamonds of brown and yellow. The tail is bandaged and has rattles.
- Timber/Canebrake Rattlesnake: They are found in a variety of terrestrial habitats as well as swamps. Their basic color is gray with black V-shaped crossbands. Some can have an orange-brown stripe down the middle of their back. The tail is black with rattles at the tip.
- Pigmy Rattlesnake: They are found in wooded areas and swamps. They have dull gray with dark gray or brown blotches on the back and sides.
- Eastern Coral Snake: These are found in a wide variety of habitats including wooded areas, fields and pond margins. They have red, yellow and black rings encircling their bodies.