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The Coral Snake: Is He Dangerous?

By: Dr. Dawn Ruben

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Although very rare, a strike by a coral snake can be quite dangerous for your pet. Coral snakes inject a nerve toxin that can interfere with breathing. If the bite is severe enough, paralysis can result.

Coral snakes and cobras are the primary members of the Elapidae family of snakes, and the coral snake is the only family normally present in the United States, inhabiting the southeastern region and Texas.

Coral snakes have a distinctive pattern of color: a red band next to a yellow band. Other, non-venomous snakes may have a similar patter (such as the scarlet king snake), but you can tell the difference by following the adage: "Red on yellow, kill a fellow. Red on black venom lack."

Of the 15,000 pets bitten by poisonous snakes each year, only one percent are by coral snakes; the vast majority are by rattlesnakes (a type of pit viper). The head of a coral snake is relatively small, and it has difficulty opening its mouth wide enough to inflict a serious bite.

Bites tend to occur when pets are playing in a snake-infested area; snakebites can be triggered by your pet's aggressive, playful or curious behavior. Dogs are more likely to be attacked, with most of the strikes hitting the legs or head, especially the muzzle. If your pet is bitten, it is important to keep him calm. Limiting his activity may reduce the effect of the bite.

What to Look For

There is usually little swelling in the area of the bite. Your pet may show the following symptoms:

  • Drooling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Weakness
  • Disorientation
  • Paralysis
  • Difficulty breathing

    If your pet is bitten, do not apply a tourniquet. This will affect the circulation to the area and may result in serious tissue damage. Do not try to suck the venom out of the bite, and do not apply an icepack to the area.

    In addition, don't give your pet pain medication.

    Veterinary Care

    Although there is an antivenin available, it may not be available in some areas. Your pet may be hospitalized with intravenous fluids, and atropine may be used to counteract some of the effects of the venom.

    If the venom affects the respiratory system, respiratory support with a ventilator may be necessary.

    Preventive Care

    If your pet was bitten once, it is very important to make sure he isn't bitten again. Future venomous bites may result in much more severe toxicity, and may even result in death. The best way to prevent snakebites is to restrict your pet's access to snake-infested areas.

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