Untamed Lowcountry

Here’s what to do when a copperhead bites your pet

What to know if you're face to face with a rattlesnake

Helpful tips to avoid a surprise encounter with a rattlesnake and what to do if you're bit, from Scott Smith, who teaches about reptiles and amphibians in Idaho. Know when they're active and how they judge danger.
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Helpful tips to avoid a surprise encounter with a rattlesnake and what to do if you're bit, from Scott Smith, who teaches about reptiles and amphibians in Idaho. Know when they're active and how they judge danger.

Pet owners should know that while most bites are not fatal to humans, they can be to cats and dogs.

Venomous copperheads have been in the news for biting humans – in North Carolina, there were bites reported in south Charlotte recently and another at Latta Plantation Nature Center and Preserve in Huntersville on Tuesday. While the bites can cause pain and swelling in humans, they’re not typically fatal.

Pets are another story.

“One thing that really comes in as a factor is the size of the animal,” said snake expert Meagan Thomas, animal care coordinator at Davidson College. “The smaller the dog or cat, the more likely they are to have a fatal reaction.”

So it’s vital, she said, to get your pet immediately to a veterinarian who can assess whether the animal will need anti venom or other treatment.

“Not all cases will require anti venom, believe it or not,” Thomas said.

Sometimes a copperhead will only “dry bite” a person or animal, injecting no venom at all, she said.

On one pet website, a man from Texas commented that he’s had lots of dogs bitten by copperheads and other snakes and they were all fine after he gave them the allergy and itch reliever Benadryl. Other owners said their dogs and cats died from snake bites.

In the end, veterinarians will best know the course of treatment for your pet after examining them, Thomas said, so get them to one as soon as you can.

The pet cat website Cat-World.com suggests that after calling a veterinarian, take these steps on the way if you have a person to help you:

▪  Remove the cat’s collar.

▪  Keep the bitten area lower than the heart.

▪  Keep the cat quiet and calm, as a rapid heart rate will help the venom to move more quickly around the body.

▪  Apply a pressure bandage over and around the bite to slow down venom spreading to the heart. This should be firm but not so much that it cuts off circulation.

▪  If possible, immobilize the affected limb.

▪  If there is no heartbeat or pulse, administer CPR.

“This should only be carried out if there’s more than one person,” Cat-World urges. “It is better to drive your cat straight to the veterinary practice than waste additional time and delaying urgent medical treatment.”

According to Cat-World, here’s what not to do:

▪  Do not allow your cat to walk.

▪  Do not cut the bitten area.

▪  Do not attempt to suck the venom out of the bite.

▪  Do not apply a tourniquet.

▪  Do not attempt to catch or kill the snake.

▪  Do not apply ice.

Joe Marusak: 704-358-5067, @jmarusak

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