If you have ever had a pet snake, you know it might bite you. This can be shocking or even worrying. The good thing is that it is likely that if you have a pet snake, it won’t be venomous.
Do pet snakes bite? All snakes can bite and should be handled with caution knowing that a pet snake inevitably will bite you. The most common pet snakes, the corn snake, the rosy boa and others are usually selected for their docile nature and typically don’t bite unless provoked or mistake a hand for food.
That being said, it’s good to know the potential risk and effects of any snake bite whether tame or wild.
What Do I Do if I am Bitten?
I remember being terrified of snakes as a small child. This probably came as I saw a friend receive a bite from his pet snake. However, I’ve seen and been bitten by dogs and cats and I didn’t think twice about or reconsider getting a pet dog or cat. I did some research on snakes and how best to handle the possibility of a pet snake biting you.
The first thing one should do is treat the individual who has been bitten. If the snake is venomous, take the person who was bitten to the emergency room immediately and call poison control. If it is yourself, seek help immediately and do not drive yourself.
The quicker you can get antivenom administered from a doctor, the less damage the venom will do.
The following list is for venomous snake bites which typically will occur with snakes found in the wild. Poisonous snakes generally aren’t on the public market for the common consumer.
- Seek medical attention as soon as possible (dial 911 or call local Emergency Medical Services.)
- Assume the snake is poisonous unless you know the snake’s identity 100%. Better to err on the side of safety.
- Try to remember the color and shape of the snake. This can help with treatment of the snake bite.
- Keep still and calm. Having a lower pulse slows down the spread of venom.
- Apply first aid if you cannot get to the hospital right away.
- Lay or sit down with the bite below the level of the heart.Wash the bite with antiseptic soap and clean warm water.Cover the bite with a clean, dry dressing.
If the snake was nonvenomous, then carefully clean and wash the wound with warm water and antiseptic soap.
It’s a common misconception that if the snake is non-venomous then its bite will have no effect whatsoever.
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It’s a common misconception that if the snake is non-venomous then its bite will have no effect whatsoever. The reality is the bite wound could become infected with bacteria and potentially contract salmonella.
It is possible to contract salmonella due to a snake’s diet usually consisting of rodents and other animals. This is why thoroughly cleaning the wound with antiseptic soap will help eliminate this risk.
Another way to prevent salmonella or infection from a nonvenomous snake bite is to pour a little rubbing alcohol or benzoyl peroxide over and punctures to disinfect them. You could also rinse the bite and put on some Neosporin or another antibacterial cream to fight potentially infectious bacteria the snake’s mouth may have been harboring.
While nonvenomous snakes can have a harmful bite, venomous bites can be harmless. Half of all bites from venomous snakes are called ‘dry bites’ or bites with the lack of venom dispersed in the victim. This occurs often as snakes attempt to conserve venom for actual prey or if they accidentally bite.
With the case of some aggressive snakes, they may bite several times in quick succession. This also can have one or multiple ‘dry bites’.
After you have cleaned and prepared the bite wound, its a good idea to apply a band-aid to the area to stop any blood loss as well as keep the bite sanitary while it heals up.
What Not to Do if Bitten
According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are several crucial things to not do if you or someone near you is bitten by a snake such as:
- Do not pick up the snake or try to trap it.
- Do not wait for symptoms to appear if bitten, seek immediate medical attention.
- Do not apply a tourniquet to the wounded area.
- Do not slash the wound with a knife.
- Do not suck out the venom.
- Do not apply ice or immerse the wound in water.
- Do not drink alcohol as a painkiller.
- Do not drink caffeinated beverages.
Doing any one or several of these things will put the person at a much higher risk of injury and possibly death.
Things like alcohol or caffeinated beverages will only increase the heart rate and allow the venom to spread faster through the body.
Of course, if this is a bite from a pet snake, the owner, whether that be you or a friend, will know if the snake is venomous or not. Unless you own a more exotic snake or rattlesnake, the chances of it being venomous are rather small. Knowing this, you should still exhibit caution.
What to do to Prevent Getting Bitten Again
After you have cleaned and taken care of the bite wound, make sure the snake is safely secured back in its cage. This is important in avoiding a repeat bite, especially for dogs and other animals that won’t stand down to a snake.
Check to see if the snake is hungry. Place some food in the cage away from the snake or offer it to the snake with something like a long-handled tweezer.
Make sure the snake isn’t shedding or about to shed. If this is the case, have the humidity levels in the cage be between 50 to 70% humidity and add a water bowl or basin to assist the snake in the shedding process.
Whatever the case may be, let the snake have some alone time before attempting to handle it again. When you do attempt to handle it again, be careful, calm, and approach it slowly.
Ways to Avoid Getting Bitten
If you’re like me, you aren’t looking for opportunities for snakes to sink their fangs into your flesh. Simply put, I don’t need to prove how brave or crazy I am by allowing a snake to chomp my leg or hand. Understanding the following will keep you safe from harmful bites.
Most people are bitten either as they attempt to kill a wild snake or in handling- sometimes improper handling- of a wild or pet snake, especially during a shed.
Generally, pet or tame snakes will bite for one of two reasons. Either they are hungry and mistake your hand for prey and accidentally bite or they are trying to be defensive and feel threatened.
Stick to the following instructions to limit the chances of a snake bite:
- Keep your pet snake well fed.
- Avoid offering it food directly from your hand.
- Approach it slowly when touching it.
- Handle the snake with care.
- Avoid handling it when it is at the beginning of a shed or mid-shed.
Interestingly enough, snakes aren’t looking to get close to humans and are probably as scared of you as you could be of them. This is a win-win in avoiding a snake bite.
Snakes are solitary creatures. They prefer to stick to a hiding place rather than surrounded by a large group of people. It’s considered best practice to have only a handful of people be around a snake at any point of being handled.
What Kind of Snake Should I get if I’m Afraid of Being Bitten?
The best advice is to do research on potential pet snakes. What kind of snake you are interested in buying should be influenced by its aggressive or passive nature.
If you are deeply afraid of getting bit often, it’s best to stay away from the more aggressive species such as the reticulated python and black racer snakes. You’ll want to lean toward getting a gentle snake that won’t be as eager to nibble on your hand.
As previously mentioned, those more calm snakes like the corn snake, rosy boa, and California Kingsnake are better suited for those who are wanting to handle their snake with smaller children as they are naturally tamer.
However, you must remember that all animals with a mouth will bite let alone a snake. This goes for dogs and cats as well as I personally know. Having a good understanding of the mood of your pet snake will help aid you in knowing when a snake is at a higher chance of bitting.
It may seem that snakes are more aggressive than other animals. This may be due to the fact that snakes do not have legs or claws. If other animals only had their mouth to defend or attack with, we may see snakes in a different light.
It is also important to understand why you are getting a pet snake. If you are fearful of an animal biting you then you may not be ready for a pet just yet.
Recognizing the Signs that a Snake is About to Bite
Most of the time, a snake will coil up before going for a bite. Sometimes they will flash their mouth open and shake and rattle their tail. Some snakes rise up in an “s” shape before they will strike at you or at prey. However, snakes can be unpredictable and have been known to strike without showing any of the previous signs at all.
If taken care of properly by an attentive owner, the owner will be able to recognize a change in mood and at the worse case scenario- a bite will most likely be manifested as an uncommon accident.
Of course, if you are trying to hold a snake that’s in the process of shedding its skin, it will be in a stressed and irritated mood. Don’t try to hold the snake during this time, it will most likely bite you.
It’s also important to note that you should not handle a dead or decapitated snake. According to the Jackson Lab at the University of Florida, a decapitated rattlesnake head is dangerous and can still inject venom up to an hour after decapitation.
Snake Bite Statistics
Pet snake bites are similar or comparable to other pet bites from dogs, cats, or birds. Like a dog or bird bite, statistics on pet snake bites go unrecorded due to the large sum and lack of a threat these bites typically pose. Regardless, here are statistics for snake bites in North America.
- Less than two percent of all snake bites happen to snake owners.
- Twenty-five to thirty percent of all snakes is venomous. Common pet snakes are not poisonous but some exotic species can be.
- It has been estimated that 7,000–8,000 people per year receive venomous snake bites in the United States.
- Only one in five-hundred or 0.2% of venomous snake bites result in death. (Compare five- fifteen snake bite deaths to 33,000 car accident related deaths per year).
- Most of these bites are attributed to the eastern and western diamondback rattlesnake. Luckily, this species’ venom is the least toxic and the antivenom is commonly found in many emergency rooms.
- About 1,300 kids receive snake bites each year. Of this number, roughly one-fifth require a visit to admission to an intensive care unit.
- One in four bites on children occurs in the states, Florida and Texas.
Why Would a Pet Snake Bite an Owner?
Remember that while snakes can be kept as pets, they aren’t the same as dogs, birds, or cats. A snake, tame or wild, does not create the same emotional connection as the other animals tend to do. Snakes don’t even create emotional bonds within their own families; mothers abandon their young to fend for themselves, and mates don’t stay together long.
Highly unlikely but maybe this will change with evolution and snakes will develop a sense of love. However, as of now, snakes don’t have the capacity for feelings of warm affection. It simply does not help them survive and therefore is of little use to them.
While snakes don’t build a bond with their owner(s), they do establish a level of comfort, stability, and familiarity in an environment. If you can maintain order and consistency in the snake’s cage, it will be more relaxed and less likely to bite. As mentioned previously in this article, most bites from a pet snake are accidental and not even with full-force.
Snakes are simple creatures and only need a few things to be satisfied. As mentioned earlier, they need a warm cage or vivarium, hiding places, and being feed regularly to stay satisfied.
Do snake bites hurt? A bite from a snake can hurt just as bad as a dog or cat bite, sometimes worse depending on the size and species of the snake as well as if it is venomous or non-venomous. If the bite breaks the skin it will hurt more than otherwise.
What are the odds of being bitten by a venomous snake? Fewer than one in 37,500 people are bitten by venomous snakes in the U.S. each year. With the rise of ownership of exotic snakes, this number may also increase. It also comes with more areas being equipped with proper antivenom and high-quality health care.
Where do most snake bites occur in the world? Most snake bites and fatalities come from South Asia, Southeast Asia, the sub-Saharan parts of Africa with India claiming the most deaths caused by snakes of any country in the world