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Snake Bite Care and Prevention

By Sean Burgess - seanb@landings.org
Public Works Director

In Georgia, we have 40 species of snakes that include six venomous snakes. On Skidaway Island, the snakes we most often see are rat snakes, garter snakes, corn snakes, and copperheads. Although this region is home to all six venomous snakes, the only one that I have ever seen on the island is the copperhead, which is quite common.

Copperheads have the mildest venom of any of our poisonous snakes, and their bites rarely are fatal. These snakes bite more people in the United States than other snakes because unlike some snakes, they don’t retreat, rattle, or show fangs as a defense mechanism. Snakes such as copperheads use a strike as a defensive mechanism, but rarely inject valuable venom, as a “dry” bite can scare away most threats. Most bites to humans and pets are because the snake is startled or feels threatened.

Statistics show lightning kills many more people every year than snake bites do. In most situations if you leave the snake alone, they’ll leave you alone. Residents can improve their chances of not having snakes in and around their homes by keeping a clean yard that is free of piles of brush, firewood, or other debris. The best way to keep snakes from entering your home or the crawl space underneath your home is to seal all possible entrance locations. This should prevent snakes and snake food, such as rodents, from entering these places.

Below is a list of actions that can help you if you or your pet is bitten by a snake.

If a snake bites you:

  • Remain calm.
  • Immobilize the bitten arm or leg, and stay as quiet as possible to keep the poison from spreading through your body.
  • Remove jewelry before you start to swell.
  • Position yourself, if possible, so that the bite is at or below the level of your heart.
  • Cleanse the wound, but don't flush it with water, and cover it with a clean, dry dressing.
  • Apply a splint to reduce movement of the affected area, but keep it loose enough so as not to restrict blood flow.
  • Don’t use a tourniquet or apply ice.
  • Don’t cut the wound or attempt to remove the venom.
  • Don’t drink caffeine or alcohol.
  • Don’t try to capture the snake, but try to remember its color and shape so you can describe it, which will help in your treatment.

Call First Responders at 355-6688 (or 911 if you are not in The Landings) to seek immediate medical attention, especially if the area changes color, begins to swell, or is painful.

What to do if you think your pet’s been bitten:

Remember to stay calm.

  • Keep your pet calm, too, by limiting his or her activity.
  • If your pet was bitten on the neck, remove the collar.
  • If possible, keep the location of the bite below heart level.
  • Seek veterinary care for your pet immediately.
  • Treatment options such as cold packs, ice, tourniquets, alcohol, bleeding the wound, and trying to suck out venom should not be attempted in place of getting your pet to the vet. They may just waste precious time.
  • Always keep your personal safety in mind, and do not try to catch or kill a snake yourself.
  • Even if you think a snake is dead, never handle it. Some dead snakes can inflict a bite by muscle contractions.