Snake bites dog in Charlotte. Why are they around in the winter and how to protect pets
A social media post about a dog in Charlotte getting bitten by a poisonous snake this January has raised questions about whether snakes are still around and a potential danger to pets and people.
While snakes aren’t as active in winter, experts say, they still surface occasionally during the season.
And in Charlotte and much of North Carolina, there are multiple species of snakes around, including different types of venomous snakes. When pets are bitten, taking quick action can mean the difference between life and death.
Here’s what to know about snakes in North Carolina, their behavior in winter and what to do if your pet is attacked:
Do snakes come out in the winter?
Because snakes and other reptiles are cold-blooded, there is often a misconception that they hibernate in winter.
“Snakes are less active over the winter,” the Chicago Academy of Sciences’ Nature Museum explains, but they’re not completely dormant. Instead of hibernating like some warm-blooded animals, they “brumate over the winter.”
“Snakes stop eating as the temperature drops, their metabolism slows down, and they look for an underground place to hide from surface temperature changes … but will still come to the surface to drink on warmer winter days,” the Museum says.
When underground, snakes are in what’s called a “hibernaculum.”
“If there aren’t any natural areas to get below ground, some snakes will use above ground structures, like large rotting logs in oak savannas, or human structures such as mulch piles, railroad embankments, or basements,” the Museum says. “Railroad tracks or rails to trails paths can act as snake highways that lead snakes into restored habitat areas.”
Different types of snakes “leave their hibernacula at different times and temperatures.”
What kinds of snakes are in North Carolina?
There are three “families” of snakes found in North Carolina, which adds up to 37 different snake species.
Of those 37 species, six are venomous. “Copperheads are the most commonly encountered venomous snakes” in the state, North Carolina wildlife officials say.
What to do if your pets are bitten by a snake
The ASPCA recommends keeping dogs on a leash and watching them closely when outside in order to avoid snake bites. And you should also try to “prevent your pet from sticking their face into heavy brush and their nose into rock crevices where snakes may be lurking.”
Cats should be kept inside to help prevent snake bites, the ASPCA adds.
If your pet is bitten by a snake, the ASPCA advises, it’s important to get them to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. You can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435.
“Carry your dog if possible and do not waste time performing first aid,” the group says. “Sucking out the venom does not work, please do not attempt this.”
Veterinarians will typically give your pet fluids and pain medication as well as any necessary antivenom.
“Tissue damage will develop and progress over a few days and sometimes extended wound care is needed as tissue dies off and new tissue grows,” the ASPCA adds.