By Laurie Hess, DVM, Dipl ABVP (Avian Practice)
In general, most non-venomous snake species commonly kept as pets are gentle and do not typically bite their owners if they are unprovoked. All species can, however, bite unexpectedly if they are startled or excessively hungry. Starving reptiles may lash out to grab rodent prey and accidently bite a human hand holding the prey. Snakes may also be more irritable and more prone to bite when they are shedding or have an underlying illness and are not feeling well.
Learn more about what to do if your pet snake bites you, and how to prevent it from happening again, below.
What to Do If Your Snake Bites You
The first thing you should do if your pet snake bites is to treat yourself or the person your snake has bitten. Assuming that the snake isn’t venomous (because if it is, you may need to go to an emergency room for anti-venom treatment within minutes), thoroughly clean the wound with warm water and antiseptic soap. Flush out broken areas of skin with copious amounts of water for several minutes and apply pressure to bleeding wounds to promote clotting. Be sure to call your doctor immediately to get advice about specific medical treatment. Even non-venomous snake bite wounds can become infected with various bacteria, including Salmonella, from the mouths of rodent-eating reptiles, so addressing them immediately is crucial.
Here are some good rules of thumb to follow to avoid being bitten:
- Keep your pet snake well fed
- Never offer it food directly from your hand
- Approach it slowly when touching it
- Handle it gently
- Avoid handling it when it is mid-shed
Ways to Keep Your Snake from Biting Again
Once your wounds have been addressed, make sure that your snake is replaced and contained safely and securely within its enclosure and that it no way looks ill or injured. If you think it bit you because it is hungry, feed it killed prey by either leaving it in the tank for it to consume or offering it to your snake with a long-handled tweezer.
If the snake is shedding, aid the shedding process by providing the snake with water in which it can soak and mist it daily. If the pet is acting lethargic, hiding excessively, refusing to eat or shows skin color changes (such as looking flushed with a pink hue, which can indicate sepsis), be sure to have it checked out by your veterinarian as soon as possible so that any underlying illness may be diagnosed and treated.
Not all snakes make the best pets, and even the best pet snakes can become irritable at times. Species such as corn snakes, ball pythons, rosy boas and California king snakes are usually gentle and make great pets that are not known to bite. Alternatively, reticulated pythons and black racer snakes are generally more aggressive and can be more prone to biting when threatened. If you want to avoid being bitten by your pet snake, stay away from keeping the less unpredictable species as pets.
Be cognizant of your pet’s mood and circumstances before you put your hand into its tank and never let your guard down. Even happy, satiated snakes can get startled and strike. With proper care and an attentive owner, snake bites are generally an uncommon occurrence.
Image: teekayu via Shutterstock