If you’ve spent any time outdoors in South Carolina, odds are you’ve come across a snake or two. And while snakes cause many of us to freak out, in reality, most snakes are harmless and will do their best to stay away from your dogs and out of your way. That said, it’s important for dog owners to know which kinds of snakes may present a problem, and what to do to stay safe around them.
Upstate South Carolina’s Snakes
According to the SC DNR, there are 38 snakes that live in South Carolina, but only six of them are venomous. Of these six venomous snakes of South Carolina, only three of them live in Greenville, Spartanburg, Laurens or the surrounding counties. So that means you don’t have to worry about the vast majority of snakes you may see while out hiking or walking in Upstate South Carolina. Do not try to actively kill snakes; just leave them be, and you’ll both be better off.
The three venomous snakes to watch out for in Upstate S.C. include:
- Copperheads. This is SC’s most common venomous snake. They are 2-4 feet long, and colors range from light pink to tan, with brown hourglass-shaped markings and copper-colored heads. They live in almost any habitat, from mountains to forests to swamps.
- Pigmy Rattlesnake. This snake, rather uncommon in S.C., is about a foot long. They range from light grey to dark charcoal, with dark blotches on their backs, often with a faint red line down their spine. Though they have rattles on their tails like all rattlesnakes, pigmy rattles are difficult to see or hear. They are found near fresh water (but never in the mountains).
- Timber Rattlesnake. Ranging from 3-5 feet long, this type of mountain or timber rattlesnake can be about any color from yellow to black, with dark patches on its back and the tell-tale rattle on its tail. It spends winters in rock outcrops and hunts along streams and valleys.
Safe Hiking in Snake Areas
If you’re hiking or walking through an area that might have snakes – especially near swamps, streams, or thick forests – then take a few precautions to keep your dogs safe from snake encounters.
- Stay on the trail. Snakes, even venomous ones, don’t want to be around humans. So keeping your dogs on marked, cleared trails will reduce the chance of coming across a snake.
- Don’t let your dogs explore blindly. Some dogs just love to stick their noses into hollowed-out logs, rock crevices, and other dark places you can’t see well into. Do your best to keep dogs from poking their noses in places where snakes like to hide by either keeping your dog on a leash, or calling her back whenever she gets near potential snake hiding places.
- Give snakes a wide berth. If you do see a snake, hold back your dog and wait for it to go by. Do not throw rocks, prod it with a stick, or try to scare it off. As long as you and your dog stay calm, the snake should move on its way.
- Don’t hike at night. While this is a good rule for all sorts of safety reasons, it’s also a good way to avoid accidental snake encounters. Hike only when you have enough light to see clearly.
How do I know if it’s a snake bite?
Even following the best precautions, your dog may get overly curious (or overly aggressive) and get bitten by a snake. If you see your dog get bitten, immediately take your dog to the vet (Animal Clinic of Woodruff is open these hours, and two Upstate S.C. after-hours vets are listed here). Go to the vet for treatment for all snake bites, venomous or not.
But if your dog returns to you injured and you didn’t see the encounter, how do you know if she was bitten by a snake?
Look for these symptoms that may indicate the injury was caused by a snake:
- Seeming to be in severe pain, especially in one area
- Weakness that may lead to collapse
- Shaking or twitching muscles
- Visible fang or puncture marks, and/or blood oozing from a wound
- Swelling around the wound, face or legs
- Signs of shock or distress, like dilated pupils, difficulty breathing, rapid panting, drooling, vomiting
If you suspect a snake bite, call your vet and head to the clinic right away. Your veterinarian will be able to do blood tests to determine if there is venom in your dog’s bloodstream (and how much), and how best to treat the reaction, as well as prevent any related infection. Do not try to do home-based treatments. Do try to keep the dog calm.
Remember, though, that it’s rare to encounter snakes, and even if you do, it’s much rarer to be bitten. And even if your dog is bitten, snake bites, though painful, are rarely deadly. Don’t cancel a hike or miss out on outside fun over fear of snakes. Taking a few precautions and knowing how to react will help ensure you all have a fun time outdoors.
Got more questions about dogs and snakes? Make an appointment with the Animal Clinic of Woodruff vets today.