Treating snake bites is important even if it is from a non-venomous pet. The most docile of snakes has the potential to suddenly and without warning bite you. The size of the snake and the size of its teeth will have a lot to do with how much damage it can potentially do to you. Regardless if you are handling a 12 inch Garter Snake or a 15 foot Reticulated python there is always a potential for a bite. If you are bitten there are some basic steps you can take to reduce the chance of infection and inflammation.
- Get the snake to release
- Fortunately when it is just a bite most snakes will let go on their own. However if the snake is persistent in holding on, or for some reason unable to let go you’ll need to encourage them a bit. Do not pull the snake free from your skin. Most snakes have teeth that are curved towards the rear so they can get a better grep on their prey. If you just rip the snake away you’ll almost certainly tear your skin more than it needs to be torn and you’ll probably break several of the snake’s teeth at the same time. Instead hold it firmly behind the head and gently push it towards the bite so the teeth come out of your flesh and then pull it away from you.
Obviously the above works fine for a small to medium sized snake, but what about something massive like a 20 footer? I’ve heard (and read) from several sources that pouring holding a cotton ball soaking in rubbing alcohol over its face will get it to release. I’m not sure who packs around an alcohol soaked cotton ball while handling their snakes so that begs the question who is going to think to drag a 20 foot snake that has clamped on to your flesh through the house to get to the alcohol and cotton balls? I’ve also heard that you can get a large snake to release its bite by rubbing the scales “against the grain” from the tail end towards the head. I’ve not had a reason to try either of those methods, but apparently they work.
It’s also important to be able to recognize, particularly with the larger snakes, when it is more than just a defensive bite. In other words you need to be able to discern when the bite is a feeding attempt. If it bites and releases it is just a defensive bite. If it bites and hangs on but does nothing more it is a defensive bite. On the other hand if it bites and attempts to start throwing coils you must realize how serious the situation is. Get the snake off of you as quickly as possible using whatever means you need to use to assure your safety. I met a guy who claimed to have torn a 9 foot boa in half when it threw coils around his neck. I don’t know if it is true or not, but I do know it is an appropriate response in order to preserve your own life.
- After the snake has bitten you
- Once the snake has released the bite you need to treat it. A snake bite can be a combination of puncture wound and/or laceration depending on how deep it goes and how much damage is done to underlying tissue. Of course if you need stitches get to the doctor and get stitches. I say that right up front because sometimes we have a habit of not doing what we know we should do. But suppose it is “just a bite” and stitches are not required.
- Irrigate the wound with fresh, clean water. This is the key to cleaning, not the soap.
- Clean the wound with a mild anti-bacterial soap. Avoid using hydrogen peroxide as it can actually cause damage to the healthy tissue needed to heal the wound. Also avoid soaps that contain alcohol because it can irritate the bite area
- Dry the wound by blotting it with a soft, dry cloth or towel. Don’t use friction to dry the wound or you could cause more damage
- Don’t bandage the wound unless there is a risk of cross contamination. Bandaging a wound makes the area dark, moist, and warm. The perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
- If you’ve been bit by a venomous snake forget everything I said and get yourself to a medical professional immediately!
There you have it, treating a snake bite isn’t hard. In fact it is almost the same as treating any other kind of minor open skin wound.
- Infection from a snake bite
- Despite our best efforts bites from any animals can become infected. If this happens you’ll likely need a treatment course of something such as penicillin. That is beyond the course of this article except to say speak with your doctor and he/she will get you on the right regiment of medications.
- Disease from snake bites
- Snakes, like all animals carry a host of diseases. Some are worse than others but none are pleasant to deal with. They also carry large number of protozoa. Some of the disease and protozoa include:
In closing please keep in mind that anytime you are bit by any animal there is a potential for serious side effects if it isn’t addressed as quickly as possible. The first line of defense once you’ve been bitten is cleaning it to get bacteria out of the wound. Once again if it is a bite from a poisonous species of snake don’t wait around get to a medical professional as soon as possible.