It’s Snake Bite Season In The Lowcountry

by Dr Stacey on May 8, 2012

Snake bite season starts in May when snakes forage for food and begin to mate and ends in October, when hibernation season starts.  Roughly 150,000 cats and dogs are the victims of venomous snake bites annually in the U. S.  Dogs may be particularly at risk, because dogs that haven’t seen snakes before tend to approach the reptiles face first.  Snakes prefer to live in quiet and dark areas and dogs sniffing around in the woods are particularly vulnerable.

There are six venomous snakes indigenous to the lowcountry.  1) The Diamondback Rattle Snake  2) The Timber Rattler  3) The Pigmy Rattler  4) The Cottonmouth  5) The Copperhead and 6) The Coral Snake.  Of the six, only the Coral Snake is not a member of the viper family.  The distinction is only the Coral snakes venom is a neurotoxin.  Neurotoxins affect the nervous system and can paralyze the respiratory center, causing the victim to stop breathing.  The venom of the other five is a hemotoxin.  Hemotoxins affect the blood and can cause tissue damage.  They can prevent the blood from clotting, which can lead to massive hemorrhage and shock.   Contrary to popular belief, none of these snakes are extremely aggressive and none of them will attack without provocation.

Fatal snake bites are more common in dogs than other domestic animals.  Due to the relatively small size of some dogs in proportion to the amount of venom injected, the bite of even a small snake may be fatal.  In dogs and cats, mortality is generally higher in bites to the thorax or abdomen than bites to the head or extremities.

Snakebite with envenomation is a true emergency.  If your pet gets bit by a snake the most important thing is to stay calm and keep your pet calm.  Keep your pet quiet and limit its activity.  Do not try to administer first aid to your pet.  Do not cut the bite location and do not try and suck out the venom.  Do not pack the bite location with ice or use a tourniquet.  Rapid examination and appropriate treatment are paramount.  Contact your veterinarian right away.  If you have witnessed the bite, it is helpful if you can identify the type of snake and when possible, the dead snake should be brought along for diagnosis.

Typical Pit Viper bites are characterized by severe local tissue damage that spreads from the bite site.  There may be a lot of swelling and dark , bloody fluid may ooze from the fang wounds.  Hair may hide the typical fang marks.  Sometimes only one fang mark or multiple puncture sites are present.

All snakebite victims should be monitored closely for 24-48 hours.  Your Veterinarian will start intensive treatment, aimed at preventing shock, neutralizing venom and preventing secondary infection.  An IV will be started to help maintain your pets blood pressure.  Supportive care will be given along with medications such as corticosteroids and antibiotics that your veterinarian deems necessary.

Antivenin is the only direct and specific means of neutralizing snake venom.  It is most effective if administered in the first 6 hours after the bite.  Antivenin can increase survival rates but it is expensive, about $800 a vial, and it has a short shelf life, so most clinics don’t keep it in stock.

Most dog and cats survive snake bites and the prognosis depends on the type and species of snake, location of the bite, size of the victim, degree of envenomation, and the time interval between the bite and institution of treatment.  Animals surviving pit viper bites generally have full recoveries, but may require some time for the wound to heal.

The best way to prevent snakebites while walking your dog is to stay alert, use a flashlight at night and try to limit your dog sniffing around under woodpiles and logs.


Dr. Stacey Baynard And Stuart Dr. Stacey Levin is a graduate of Northwestern University , Ross University School Of Veterinary Medicine and Oklahoma State University where she completed her large and small animal clinical studies.  She owns Mobile Pet Vet and makes housecalls for pets in Hilton Head, Bluffton and Daufuskie.  Her practice focuses on wellness and prevention, caring for your pets in the comfort of their own home.  Dr. Stacey also writes a Blog, short stories about people and pets.  You can contact Dr. Stacey at 843-683-6478 and read her Blog at



{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ron Tenin May 9, 2012 at 11:36 pm

Thanks for the great information. Your a great reprentative for veterinarans everywhere!


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