How to Treat a Pet Snake Bite

Treat a non-venomous pet snake bite by washing the affected area with warm water and plenty of soap. It’s also a good idea to use an antibacterial ointment on the wound. While bacterial infections are rare, they’re not out of the realm of possibility.

Pet snake bites on the non-venomous kind

I’ve been keeping snakes as pets for over thirty years. Over the course of three decades, I’ve been bitten countless times. A non-venomous snake bite usually isn’t a big deal unless it’s a really big snake. For the most part, non-venomous snake bites are usually harmless.

How to treat a pet snake bite

For a non-venomous snake, clean the area with plenty of soap and warm water. Such wounds usually heal quickly due to the curvature of the snake’s teeth. It’s a good idea to treat the wound with an antibacterial ointment to prevent a possible infection.

This is a gopher snake bite.
Great Basin gopher snake bite

This is especially important for wild-caught non-venomous snake bites. Infection comes by way of bacteria in the snake’s mouth.

Say, for example, you caught a wild banded water snake and choose to keep it as a pet. Water snakes in the wild often spend their time in stagnant bacteria-filled swamps. It’s definitely possible to get a bacterial infection from a snake like this. While it’s never happened to me, I know someone who did get a bacterial infection from a wild-caught non-venomous snake. The infection became so severe he almost lost his hand.

Go to the doctor if you suspect you have a bacterial infection

It’s important to get to a doctor if you suspect that you have a bacterial infection from such an event. You’ll definitely know if you have one or not. The symptoms include swelling, discoloration of the skin, vomiting, fever and other troubling symptoms. Don’t wait, go to the doctor and get it treated. When caught in time and treated by a healthcare professional, bacterial infections are usually uneventful.

Not all wild-caught snake bites cause bacterial infections

It’s important to note that I’ve been bitten by wild-caught non-venomous snakes many times, even recently. I’ve never developed a bacterial infection yet but I do have a protocol for such an event which is what I described above. Wash the wound with warm water and plenty of soap and apply an antibacterial ointment after the wound is clean.

A bite from a black racer
Black racer bite

Why pets snakes bite

Pet snakes, and snakes in, general bite primarily out of defense. In captivity, accidental food response bites are not only possible but common. Unfortunately, I get bit by non-venomous snakes on an almost regular basis. It’s always due to food response bites. Although there are tools you should use to feed snakes such as tongs and hemostats, bites are still possible.

In my case, I have a pair of bullsnakes that never bite while handling. They do, however, have a really bad aim when it comes to taking a food item from my hemostats. Bullsnakes feed enthusiastically and in their excitement, they often surpass the intended food item and latch on to my hand instead.

What a non-venomous snake bite feels like

Non-venomous snake bite results in skin lacerations. While a non-venomous snakebite is painful while it’s happening, the pain usually ceases after the snake releases its grasp. This is, of course, a bite where a secondary bacterial infection does not occur.

Different non-venomous snakes have different kinds of teeth. Take the bullsnake for example, they have small teeth compared to a boa constrictor. Still, adult bullsnakes have powerful jaws that apply a good amount of pressure. A bullsnake food response bite where the snake refuses to let go is painful.

Another prime example

Since I used the boa constrictor in the previous paragraph as an example, we’ll take a close look at their bite. Boa constrictors have long, fish hook-like teeth. When a boa constrictor bites, it’s usually out of defense. They tag you then quickly release. Nevertheless, a big boa can cause a pretty significant bite that could result in the need for a few stitches in a worst-case scenario.

Getting bit by one of the giants

Giant snakes such as reticulated, African rock, and Burmese pythons cause a more serious bite than the boa constrictor and is an event more likely to need stitches. These snakes have many teeth causing multiple lacerations and lots of blood. I keep boas over giant pythons simply because they’re more manageable.

Don’t punish a snake that bites you

As a snake keeper, you accept the fact that you are likely to get bit eventually. The more snakes you have, the more likely you are to take a hit. Always remember that it’s never the snake’s fault.

Any snake bite is a mistake on the part of the keeper, not the snake. Don’t attempt to punish the snake in any way. It won’t understand why you’re being aggressive towards it and only makes for a nastier snake.

Accidental food response bite 2
Accidental food response snake bite.

How to avoid a wild snake bite

In the wild, avoid a possible snake bite by leaving the snake alone. If you attempt to handle a wild snake, you stand a very good chance of getting bit. One must also be careful of venomous snakes in the wild. Stick to clear, open trails when hiking and know what’s around you when you sit down to rest.

Venomous snake bites are a medical emergency that requires immediate attention from a healthcare professional. More on that later in this article.

How to avoid a pet snake bite

There are lots of ways to get bitten by your pet snake and lots of ways to avoid it. Here’s how you can avoid getting bitten by your pet snake.

  • Don’t smell like snake food: Hands smelling like rodents or snake feces for that matter, are often targets for food response bites. Simply wash your hands with soap and water thoroughly if you’ve been handling rodents (alive or dead) or cleaning snake feces from its enclosure. Yes, I’ve found out the hard way that the smell of snake feces still has rodent qualities causing the snake to go in food response mode.
  • Use feeding tools such as hemostats or tongs: Feeding tools such as hemostats and tongs are definitely helpful when it comes to feeding snakes. Still, as I alluded to earlier, they don’t come with a 100% guarantee that you won’t get bitten. Never hand-feed your pet snake. It’s not good practice.
  • Don’t attempt to handle the snake while it’s going through a shed: Leave your pet snake alone once its eyes glaze over white. This means your snake is going to shed in the next several days. Don’t bother it during this time.
Accidental food response bite
Before cleaning the wound.

How to get a snake to release its bite on you

Sometimes a snake will bite you and hold its position. They might also attempt to constrict your arm. Yes, this happens to me semi-frequently and it’s never fun. The easiest and fastest way to get a snake to release its grip on you is to always have a bottle of rubbing alcohol and cotton balls close by.

Soak up some of the alcohol on the cotton ball and place it over the snake’s nostrils. It should immediately release its hold on you.

Some people recommend placing the snake in a sink while running water over it. I don’t recommend this method. I’ve tried it with slower and lackluster results.

Treating a venomous snakebite

When writing an article on how to treat non-venomous snake bites, it’s also my responsibility to recommend what to do if you get bitten by a venomous snake. Whether it be accidental, in the wild, or one that you’re keeping in captivity.

As I alluded to earlier in this article, any kind of envenomation from a venomous snake is a medical emergency and results in serious health consequences.

Venomous snake bite protocol.

  • Seek medical attention immediately.
  • Dial 911.
  • Don’t wait, time is of the essence. The longer you wait, the more damage the venom does.
  • Tell the people around you that you got bit by a venomous snake and note the species. This comes in handy when administering the right anti-venom.
  • Remain as calm as possible.
  • Do not attempt to suck out the venom.

Expect to spend some time in the hospital. Note that venomous snake bites can result in death or permanent deformity. Don’t delay, seek immediate medical attention.

Southern black racer
This wild-caught southern black racer is prone to biting.

Conclusion

A non-venomous snakebite is usually nothing to worry about. Just clean the wound immediately with warm water and soap and apply an antibacterial ointment. Go to the doctor if pain, swelling, or infection occurs.

Leave snakes alone in the wild. There are enough captive-bred snakes available that make better pets anyway.

Watch where you walk while hiking or through areas with lots of vegetation with places for wild snakes to hide. Seek immediate attention when you get bitten by any kind of venomous snake. The consequences are severe.

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How to Treat a Pet Snake Bite

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