Our area is home to two native species of venomous snakes. Although not as common as nonvenomous species of snakes both can be encountered in the hilly and forested areas of Northern New Jersey. The timber rattlesnake, Crotalus horridus, has jagged brown and black bands on its body and is often found in rocky crevices. Its most distinctive feature is the rattle on the tail, although many non-venomous snakes will mimic the rattlesnake by shaking their tails on leaves and twigs. The copperhead, Agkistrodon contortrix mokasen, is more difficult to identify from other species of snakes. It has dark colored hourglass-shaped bands from side to side and highly variable coloration. Both snakes tend to be reclusive and bite only when threatened. With their natural hunting instincts, however, dogs and cats may get bitten by trying to play with or kill these snakes.
Once bitten, a pet will experience clinical signs based on the amount of venom injected and the size of the pet. The toxins in the snake venom can cause a variety of signs including swelling, severe tissue damage, bleeding tendencies, seizures, paralysis, and death. These signs can take hours to develop.
If your dog or cat is bitten, do not attempt to capture or kill the snake. Under New Jersey’s Endangered and Nongame Species Conservation Act, it is illegal to kill, harm, harass or collect any native, non-game wildlife. Instead, photograph the snake to aid in identification and seek veterinary care immediately. Try to keep the pet calm and immobile. Be careful as the bite area may be extremely painful and it may be best to muzzle your pet for your own safety. Do not attempt to cut over the bite, apply a tourniquet or ice pack the area. Transport the pet to a veterinary facility where antivenin can be administered and the pet stabilized. With proper care most pets can survive envenomation, but permanent damage may occur.