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Veterinarian

What poisonous snakes are in Texas?

The State of Texas is home to many different types of snakes but remember, not every snake is venomous.  Snakes do have an important role in our Texas ecosystem because they consume many types of animals that are considered pests such as rats and mice.  Equally important is an understanding that envenomation is a defensive mechanism for the snake. Bites in pets are usually a result of the snake being surprised or cornered, or from your pet accidentally stepping within its space.  The snake bites we see at the Emergency Animal Hospital of NW Austin are typically from two types of snakes; Rattlesnakes and Copperheads.  Less commonly, pets encounter and are bitten by Cottonmouths and Coral snakes. In Texas, we have 10 types of Rattlesnakes, 3 types of Copperheads, 1 type of Cottonmouth and 1 type of Coral snake.  The pit vipers all have a spade or triangular shaped head and vertical pupils.  Coral snakes are smaller more delicate looking snakes with round pupils.  If you and your pet enjoy the outdoors, the potential for having contact with snakes can be high.  If your pet is bitten by a snake, being able to identify the snake can be very helpful when determining the course of treatment. 

What do these snakes look like?

Rattlesnake

Rattlesnake

Rattlesnakes are highly specialized, venomous reptiles with large bodies and triangle-shaped heads. They are one of the most iconic groups of Texas snakes due to the characteristic “rattle” found at the tip of the tail. The rattle is composed of a series of interlocking scales, which are added to each time the snake molts. When they sense a threat, different species have developed various ways to protect themselves. Some have evolved camouflage coloration to blend in with their surroundings and others are good at silent escape. When a rattlesnake chooses to stand its ground, it takes a defensive pose and shakes its rattle to warn off predators. If startled, the snake may go straight to the attack, but they can only strike from a coiled position. The most common Rattlesnake in the Austin area is the Diamond Back Rattlesnake. Because of these snakes unique body pattern and the presence of a rattle these snakes are fairly easily identified.  The pictures above show two Rattlesnakes with different body patterns and colors.

Copperhead Snake

Copperhead Snake

Rat Snake

Copperhead snakes are one of the most abundant poisonous snakes in many parts of Texas. The southern copperhead grows to a length of about 36 inches. Its color is a pinkish tan background with darker hourglass blotches across its back. It is nocturnal in the heat of summer but becomes more active in the daytime as the temperatures cool during the autumn months. There have been few deaths reported from the bite of a southern copperhead, but if you or your pet is bitten, it is important to seek medical care immediately.  Copperheads may be confused with Rat snakes or Chicken snakes which are non-venomous and useful snakes. The pictures above are of a Copperhead and a non-venomous Rat snake. The shape of the head and pupils in the non-venomous snake differ from the pit viper.

Cottonmouth Snake

Cottonmouth Snake

Non Poisonous Snake

Cottonmouth, also known as 'water moccasin’ is a semiaquatic pit viper that eats fish and frogs. Cottonmouths can be dark brown, olive-brown, olive green or almost solid black. They are marked with wide, dark bands, which are more distinct in some individuals than in others. Their bellies are cream colored in contrast to their backs. This heavy-bodied snake, which averages about 3-1/2 feet in length, is found over the eastern half of the state in swamps and sluggish waterways, coastal marshes, rivers, ponds and streams. When threatened, cottonmouths will curl into a loose coil and gape their mouths, displaying the white lining that gives them their name. When cottonmouths swim, they will normally hold much of their bodies above the water, something that sets them apart from water snakes that swim with their bodies mostly submerged.  These snakes can be confused with other water snakes and Hog-nosed snakes. The pictures above show a Cottonmouth and a non-venomous water snake.  Notice the smaller head and round pupils in the non-venomous snake.

Coral Snake

Coral Snake

Coral Snakes are the state's only member of the Elapidae family, which includes the cobras of Asia and Africa. The brightly colored Texas coral snake is slender with a small indistinctive head and round pupils and is usually is 2-1/2 feet or shorter. Its distinctive pattern is a broad black ring, a narrow yellow ring, and a broad red ring, with the red rings, always bordered by the yellow rings. Because these are shy snakes are have very small mouths we rarely see coral snakebites.  Coral snakes are found in the southeastern half of Texas in woodlands, canyons and coastal plains. Several harmless snakes, like the King snake, are similarly marked, but never with the red and yellow touching. 'Red-on -yellow, kill a fellow; red-on-black, venom lack,' is a handy way to distinguish the highly venomous coral snake from nonvenomous ringed species. Above are pictures of a Coral snake (red-on-yellow) and non-venomous King snake (red-on-black).

Precautions and Responses

How do you avoid poisonous snakes?

Learn to recognize the snake species that are likely to be in the area. Most snakes are not dangerous and should not be killed or molested.  Understanding what snakes look for in suitable habitat can help you know when to be wary and understanding their behavior will help you know what to do if you encounter one.  Minimizing snake habitat around your home and being aware of the potential encounters is helpful.

  • Keep the lawn around your home trimmed low.
  • Remove any brush, wood, rock or debris piles from around the residence - they make great hiding places for snakes and their prey - rodents.
  • Always wear shoes while outside and never put your hands where you cannot see them.
  • Be careful when stepping over fallen logs and rock outcroppings.
  • Take care along creek banks and underbrush.

Snakes do not prey on humans and they will not chase you, in fact, they usually retreat or escape if given the opportunity. The danger comes when they are either surprised or cornered.

What should you do if your pet is bitten?

If you suspect that your pet has been bitten by a snake, do not delay in rushing him to the veterinary emergency hospital. Your pet may become painful and the bite site may swell and bleed.  Coral snake venom differs from pit vipers because it attacks the nervous system.  If bitten, your pet may begin to stumble or drool. 

  • Remain calm because your dog may sense your panic and become agitated.  Keep your pet as quiet as possible while in transit to the veterinary hospital.
  • Do not allow him to walk; carry him to your vehicle and try to calm him with your voice and actions.

What should you NOT do when your pet is bitten?

  • Do not make incisions over the bite marks and attempt to remove the venom.
  • Do not use a tourniquet or other constricting ban except in extreme cases of envenomation, and then only if properly trained in the technique.
  • Do not use cryotherapy (including cold compresses, ice, dry ice, chemical ice packs, spray refrigerants, and freezing) for the same reasons that the tourniquets should be avoided, and also because it can increase the area necrosis.
  • Do not give your pet aspirin or related medications to relieve pain, because they increase bleeding. Ibuprofen is toxic to animals.

How are snake bites treated?

If the snake is non-venomous, the wound will be cleaned thoroughly.  Depending on the bite, antibiotics may be prescribed along anti-inflammatories and antihistamines.

Treatment for venomous snake bites will vary depending on the type of venom and the severity and number of bites.  Treatment may include antivenin, oxygen support, IV fluids antibiotics, pain control depending on the symptoms and effect the venom has on your individual pet.  Your pet may require close medical monitoring and long hospital stays.  If the bite wound does not heal properly, surgery may be required to remove the damaged tissue.  All snake bites are different and in a serious case that has many complications your pet may need an extended hospital stay and have a lengthy recovery period. 

Antivenin is available for canine and feline victims of Rattlesnake bites and is expensive but effective. Coral snake antivenin has not been available to us in the past. Coral snake venom is a neurotoxin and patients are treated symptomatically and may require ventilation.  Prognosis for a fully envenomated coral snake bite patient is poor.

Contact Emergency Animal Hospital of Northwest Austin

If your pet has been bitten by a snake or you believe they have been harmed, contact our pet emergency team today at 512-331-6121.