Pets have a habit of sticking their noses into places best left unexplored, and some of these spots can host hidden snakes. Approximately 40 snake species reside in Alabama, but only six are venomous. However, you want to prevent any snake from biting your pet, venomous or not, as the bite from a nonvenomous snake can also cause serious tissue damage and pain. Take a moment to learn how to identify the venomous Alabama snakes, what you should do if your pet is bitten, and how best to protect your furry pal from snakes.

How to identify venomous snakes

Five of the six venomous snake species in Alabama are in the pit viper group, and include the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, the timber rattlesnake, the pygmy rattlesnake, the copperhead, and the cottonmouth. Pit vipers get their name from the pits between their eyes and nostrils. These pits are used to detect heat and improve the snake’s accuracy in striking warm-blooded prey. Pit vipers have vertical pupils, thin necks, heavy bodies, and wide, triangular heads. They also have retractable, hollow fangs near the front of their mouth. Rather than laying eggs, all pit vipers give birth to their young. 

The sixth venomous Alabama snake is the coral snake, a small, secretive snake with black and red rings separated by yellow rings, and a black snout. Unlike the pit viper, the coral snake has a small head, round pupils, and a slender body. Coral snakes can easily be confused with several nonvenomous snake species that share the same color scheme, although the red and black bands of nonvenomous snakes touch. When in doubt, give a wide berth to all snakes with a red, yellow, and black color pattern, regardless of how the bands align. 

How to prevent snake bites in pets

Snakes can lurk anywhere, but you can help keep your pet safe from being bitten by following these tips:

  • Keep your pet close — While out walking, keep your dog close to you with a leash, rather than letting them run out of view.
  • Do not let your pet explore potential snake hiding spots — Do not allow your pet to explore holes in the ground, or dig under logs, flat rocks, or planks.
  • Stick to open areas — Not only will snakes be more visible on open paths, but also they tend to avoid open areas that do not offer shelter.
  • Avoid nighttime walks — Rattlesnakes are nocturnal most of the year, so avoid them by walking your pet during the day.
  • Keep brush and trash cleaned up — Some snakes are fond of using piles of rocks or wood as shelter and feeding areas. In addition, brush and trash provide habitat for snakes and rodents, so maintain your yard to eliminate cover, shelter, and snake food sources. 
  • Erect a snake-proof fence — Since not all snakes can climb, a snake-proof fence can greatly deter snakes from entering your yard. A snake-proof fence will slant away from your home at a 30-degree angle and be constructed of small mesh hardware cloth. The bottom of the screened fence should be buried two to four inches in the ground.

What if a snake bites your pet?

As you and your pet head outdoors to take advantage of the warmer weather, keep in mind that other animals may be enjoying the same sunny spots. Snakes can lurk under rocks and in thick brush, or can swim across the pond where your pooch is splashing. Keep a close eye out for these prime snake habitats, and take extra precautions around areas with ample food sources. Snakes feed on a variety of small rodents, lizards, insects, and ground-dwelling birds, so you can easily run across a snoozing or feasting snake when you venture through a local park or nature preserve. 

Despite your best preventive measures, your pet may still become a snake’s victim. Never try to suck out venom or to capture the snake, but follow these steps to help your pet instead:

  • Take a mental picture — Try to identify the snake by taking note of its size, color patterns, and the presence or absence of a rattle at the end of the tail. Never run after the snake to take a picture.
  • Examine your pet — They may have more than one bite wound, so check your pet carefully for puncture marks. 
  • Apply a tourniquet — If your pet was bitten on a limb, wrap a constricting band above the bite wound, closest to the body. The compression from a shirtsleeve or other fabric will help slow the venom’s spread.
  • Remain calm — By staying calm, you help keep your pet calm, too. An elevated heart rate because of anxiety and panic will only serve to spread the venom faster, so speak softly and soothingly to your pet. 

Call our Town & Country Animal Hospital, PC team if your pet has been bitten by a snake. Every moment counts in this situation, and we want to be prepared for your pet’s arrival.