Bit By A Snake? Here Is What You Should Do, Immediately.

Written by Emily Wolfel
Updated: September 30, 2022
© mr.kie/Shutterstock.com
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Think You Know Snakes?

Key Points

  • While there are many old and widespread ideas about how to treat a venomous snake bite (such as sucking out the venom), the proper way to address a snake bite is quite different than most people think.
  • Calling an ambulance, staying calm and still, and applying pressure to the wound until emergency services arrive are the best ways to respond to a venomous bite.
  • Older recommendations to suck out the venom, apply a tourniquet, or catch the snake to help identify it are all outdated suggestions that can cause far more harm than good.

While most people are happy to get up close and personal with their pets, wildlife is something best left alone. Interacting with wildlife always comes with a risk, from bites and scratches to contracting an animal-borne illness.

Depending on where you live, one of the most common concerns about wildlife interactions may be what to do if you get bitten by a snake. Follow these tips right away to help ensure a speedy recovery.

Call an Ambulance Right Away

One of the very first things to do after being bitten by a snake is to call an ambulance. Even if you don’t think the snake was venomous or aren’t sure whether it is, you need medical attention. You don’t want to assume the snake that bit you wasn’t venomous only to realize too late that it was. There is a time limit to successfully treating venomous bites, and you don’t want to accidentally go past it.

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There is also the fact that any bite from a wild animal needs medical care. Doctors will need to thoroughly clean the wound to prevent infection and you may need stitches.

Do Your Best to Stay Still

Whenever you get bitten by a snake, you want to act on the assumption that it is venomous. Going off of this assumption, stay as still as you can after the bite. This will slow down the process of the venom spreading throughout your body.

That is important because snake venom moves through the body’s lymphatic system. For those unfamiliar with it, lymph is a body fluid with white blood cells. Lymph only moves as you move your limbs. This means that by staying still, you can slow down or even stop the venom from traveling through your lymphatic system.

Of course, staying still assumes that you are somewhere safe. If there are more snakes around or you aren’t in a safe area, go somewhere safe, but try to minimize your movements as you do so.

Have Others Carry You If Necessary

If you do have to leave the area, have others carry you if at all possible. This way, you won’t be moving and encouraging the spread of the venom.

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Don’t Go After the Snake

After a snake bite, resist the temptation to retaliate or the urge to catch it so it can be identified. This only increases the risk of getting yet another snake bite. Besides, if you are alone, following the snake will certainly involve movement, which could spread the venom through your system more. If you aren’t alone, your companion may get bitten.

Don’t worry about identifying the snake. It’s great if you know what it looked like, but this isn’t as essential as most people realize. Hospitals actually have tests to help figure out which treatment will work best, even if you aren’t sure what type of snake bit you. If you can do so without any risk, go ahead and take a picture of the snake.

Wash the Wound

You may see some advice not to wash the wound after a snake bite. The idea is that leaving it alone can leave some venom on the surface. Hospital staff can then test the venom to determine what snake bit you.

But the official recommendations from the CDC encourage you to wash the wound right away. Then, cover it with a dry and clean dressing.

Wrap the Limb in a Pressure Immobilization Bandage

It is most common for snake bites to occur on limbs, which is convenient when it comes to containing the venom. Apply a pressure immobilization bandage to the limb, and this can hopefully stop the venom from traveling along the lymphatic system.

If the bite is on your torso, neck, or head, then this won’t be an option.

How to Do So

If you have plastic wrap, a pad, or something similar, place it on the bite site. This may soak up some venom. At the very least, it will absorb some venom so hospital staff can test it later.

The ideal pressure immobilized bandage is an elastic roller bandage or pressure bandage that is a few inches wide. You can also use any type of stretchy material you have on hand, such as a torn-up shirt. Roll the bandage over the site of the bite.

Take a second bandage and apply it to the edge of your limb. You want to roll the bandage up as high on the limb as it can go without restricting your blood flow. Remember that you don’t want to cut off your circulation, as that can lead to other issues. But a bandage that isn’t tight enough to cut off circulation is still tight enough to slow down your lymphatic movement.

Mark the Site

Your priority after being bitten by a snake should be to call an ambulance and apply the pressure immobilization bandage. But after you do those things, go ahead and mark where the bite is. This will help the hospital staff track any symptoms of the bite.

Remove Tight Clothing or Jewelry

Before you apply the bandage, go ahead and take off any tight clothing or jewelry close to the bite. This prevents them from getting stuck if you start to swell from the venom. That could result in them needing to be cut off.

Try to Sit with the Bite Below Your Heart

While you don’t want to move around too much after a snake bite, you should try to position yourself so that the bite sits lower than your heart or at the level of the heart. This will reduce the spread of venom.

What NOT to Do After Being Bitten by a Snake

While the above tips are all good things to do after being bitten by a snake, it is just as important to know what not to do. To make things more complicated, some older recommendations are actually not helpful or even counterintuitive.

Do NOT Chase or Catch the Snake

As mentioned earlier, don’t try to capture the snake. This is much riskier than the potential reward.

Do NOT Cut or Suck the Bitten Area

Cutting the bite site and sucking on it are both old recommendations that you should NOT follow. Neither of these will help treat the bite. Studies have shown that the venom circulates through the system too quickly for these methods to do any good. You will just increase the risk of infection and cause more damage to the surrounding nerves and blood vessels.

Do NOT Apply a Tourniquet

You also want to avoid applying a tourniquet. Remember that we said cutting off the circulation is bad. Tourniquets can be incredibly dangerous and cause you to lose the limb.

Do NOT Consume Alcohol or Caffeine

Either of these things can speed up the rate at which your body absorbs the venom.

What Are the Symptoms of a Snake Bite?

You frequently know that you were bitten by a snake. But what if you were bitten in your sleep? Or what if someone who can’t communicate with you, such as a child, is bitten? Look for the following signs of a snake bite:

  • Puncture marks by the wound.
  • Swelling and redness by the wound.
  • Severe pain by the wound.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Disturbed vision.
  • Labored breathing.
  • Tingling or numbness.
  • Increased sweating and salivation.

What Should You Do If Your Dog Is Bitten by a Snake?

Now that you know what to do if you are bitten by a snake, what about if your dog is bitten?

Signs of a Snake Bite in Dogs

In addition to actually seeing the snake bite on your dog, the following are warning signs that he was bitten:

  • Sudden weakness, then collapses before getting back up.
  • Shaking, twitching, or trembling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness or unsteadiness
  • Bloody urine
  • Excessive salivation
  • Dilated pupils
  • Paralysis

Follow Almost the Same Advice as with Humans

Overall, you want to take very similar actions if your pet is bitten by a snake as you would if a person is bitten. This includes:

  • Cleaning or rinsing the wound.
  • Keeping the wound lower than the heart.
  • Trying to keep your dog still.
  • Trying to keep your dog calm (and keeping yourself calm so they don’t get stressed).
  • Applying a pressure immobilization bandage if you can.
  • Trying to remember what the snake looks like, but only if doing so doesn’t put anyone at risk.
  • Take your dog to the emergency vet (and call ahead to say you are on your way).

Expect your vet to evaluate your dog and give him antivenom. He may also suggest keeping your dog under observation for 24 hours. Once your dog is discharged from the vet, you will likely need to encourage rest for a week or two.

Prevent Snake Bites

You should also do your best to prevent snakes from biting your pets. For example, keep your dog on a harness and leash while on walks, so you can see if he gets too close to a snake. Or, if you live in an area prone to snakes, monitor your yard regularly and get a no-dig fence so your dog doesn’t escape to somewhere he may encounter a snake.

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Conclusion

Snake bites can be very stressful, but most people recover fully as long as they get treatment quickly. If you are bitten by a snake, your priority should be to reduce movement while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. This will slow down the spread of the venom.

Up Next…

Want to keep reading? Try one of these articles next:

Snakes That Don’t Bite, Usually – Discover which types of snakes that usually won’t bite.

Venomous vs. Non-Venomous Snakes: What’s the Difference? – Find out the different characteristics between venous and non-venomous snakes to help you identify them.

Animals Immune to Rattlesnack Venom – While rattlesnake venom is deadly to most animals, there are a few animals who have an immunity to it.

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The Featured Image

bit by a snake
Garter snake biting on hand.
© mr.kie/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Emily is an editor and content marketing specialist of five years. She grew up in rural Pennsylvania where you can regularly encounter anything from elk to black bears to river otters. Over the years, she raised livestock animals, small animals, dogs, cats, and birds, which is where she learned most of what she knows about various animals and what allowed her to work as a dog groomer and manager of a specialty pet store. She now has three rescue cats and two high-needs Pomeranian mixes to take up her love and attention.

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