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How to Determine if a Snake is Venomous

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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When a pet is bit by a snake, how do you know if the snake was venomous or nonvenomous?

There are over 150,000 venomous snake bites that occur to dogs and cats every year in North America. It is estimated that 99% of bites to pets are from a family of venomous snakes known as pit vipers. Members of the pit viper family include rattlesnakes, copperheads and water moccasins.

Here are some tips to help you identify a venomous pit viper from a nonvenomous snake:

Snake CharacteristicsVenomousNonvenomous
EyesElliptical pupilsRound pupils
HeadBroad triangular headRounded narrow head
TeethProminent fangs- can be retracted so may not be seenOften have many small teeth
FaceDeep pit between nostril and eyeNo pit
SizeSize of snake does not determine if it is venomousSize of snake does not determine if it is venomous
LengthSize of snake does not determine if it is venomousSize of snake does not determine if it is venomous

All snake bites, even nonvenomous bites, can be dangerous. All bites have the risk of causing infection or allergic reactions. Any bite to a pet should be evaluated by a veterinarian.

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