Snake Alert: What To Do If Your Pet Is Bitten

Spring has sprung, but flowers may not be the only things popping up in your yard; this also is the season when snakes come out of hibernation.

There are almost 3,000 different species of snakes in the world, with less than a third considered venomous, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. However, only four types of venomous snakes are found in the U.S., including rattlesnakes, copperheads, cottonmouths or water moccasins, and coral snakes — and all of them are present in Texas.

Regardless of the type of snake you may encounter, Dr. Christine Rutter, a clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at the Texas A&M School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, encourages owners to have all snake bites evaluated by a veterinarian if they suspect their pet has been bitten, as bites from non-venomous snakes can lead to medical complications as well.

Understanding Snake Behavior

Snakes, with their remarkable adaptability, live in a wide variety of places, from dense rainforests and arid deserts to urban environments.

“I live in a suburban environment, and I have seen snakes even in my small yard,” Rutter said. “I make sure I turn on the house lights and make a bit of noise before letting my pets out, giving snakes a bit of warning and hopefully time to move away and hide. Snakes themselves don’t want to interact with people or pets because they are interested in being left alone; they defend themselves only if they feel threatened.”

To remain unnoticed, snakes often seek out hiding places, but this natural inclination to hide can sometimes make it difficult for pets to notice them until they are too close, potentially causing the snake to react defensively.

“Snakes really love patches of tall grass, leaf piles, wood piles, sheds and areas that have lower daily traffic, such as garages and storage buildings,” Rutter said. “Snake deterrents and chemicals, unfortunately, don’t work, so owners should keep pets away from outbuildings and maintain the pet’s environment by removing leaves, debris, and tall grass.”

Immediate Actions When Bitten

Despite taking precautions, there is always a chance that pets come across snakes, which is why it is important for owners to be able to recognize signs that their pet has been bitten.

“Dogs are most commonly bitten on the face, neck, and front limbs, while cats are most commonly bitten on their front paws,” Rutter explained. “Because some snakes don’t leave a typical ‘bite’ on a pet, owners may not find one or two bleeding puncture wounds. Instead, they should look for other signs in their pet, including pain, fear, abnormal mentality, seizures, or difficulty walking.”

Unlike some other injuries or illnesses where first aid measures can be applied at home, all snake bites require immediate veterinary attention.

“Owners should immediately remove the collar of any animal that has been bitten to prevent it from becoming constricting should the pet have swelling around their head or neck,” Rutter said. “Otherwise, there are no medications that can be given at home that are effective at treating snake bites or are appropriate to control the pain, so don’t administer anything — just see your veterinarian.”

If possible, owners also should try to gather information about the snake culprit without putting themselves in danger, either by taking a picture of the snake from a safe distance or describing its size, color, and distinctive markings from afar.

“Many snakes are not venomous, but differentiating between venomous and nonvenomous snakes is quite difficult, especially in the moment,” Rutter said. “Common things veterinarians will want to know are the snake’s color(s); patterns such as stripes or shapes versus a solid color; and the presence of a rattle. Sometimes a snake’s tail is a unique color, which can also be a helpful indicator.”

Information about the snake can help veterinarians in determining the type of snake and whether administering an appropriate antivenom will be necessary, but owners should prioritize getting their pet to the veterinarian before a snake bite begins causing severe health problems such as difficulty breathing.

By being aware of your pet’s surroundings and making small adjustments to their environment, you can help keep them safe from hidden dangers like snakes. Remember, if you have reason to believe your pet was bitten by a snake, it’s important to visit your veterinarian as soon as possible.

Pet Talk is a service of the School of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at Suggestions for future topics may be directed to

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