First Aid: Non-Venomous Snake Bite

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Overview of Non-Venomous Snakes

Most of the snakes that have non-lethal venom still produce a substance that can cause negative symptoms. This is because venom is actually a form of saliva that is produced by nearly all members of the snake genus. Even a snake that doesn’t rely on venom to neutralize its prey, such as garter snakes and others that predominantly rely on catching and consuming insects, will have some level of toxicity in their saliva.

A characteristic of non-venomous snakes that distinguishes them from the more lethal snakes is the shape and size of their teeth. While the highly-venomous snakes, such as rattlesnakes and vipers, have two very long and flexible fangs, non-venomous snakes have several small teeth as a rule. Consequently, these snake bites can rarely penetrate the clothing a person is wearing, unlike the fangs of venomous snakes that are designed to penetrate the often thick skin of their prey.

First Aid for Non-Venomous Snake Bite

Because of the lower levels of toxicity evident in non-venomous snakes, first aid for non-venomous snake bite can be addressed in the home environment. When a snake bite occurs that presents the appearance of several small punctures, it is likely to be from a non-venomous snake. In these cases, an immediate and thorough cleaning of the area with soap and water, followed by an application of hydrogen peroxide, will most likely be all that is required.

Swelling that results from a non-venomous snake bite can be addressed by an anti-inflammatory treatment. This can include non-steroid anti-inflammatory ointments or creams, as well as compounds that contain antihistamines, which are very effective in reducing inflammation. Any lingering pain can be treated with acetaminophen, either in an oral tablet or in a cream or other topical form.

When to Seek Medical Treatment

Some people will have a more severe reaction to a non-venomous snake bite. This will be sometimes true for very young children and elderly people whose immune systems are less effective than healthy adults. In these cases, even a small amount of venom will be toxic enough to cause more serious symptoms, such as fever and further discoloration of the skin from necrosis (tissue decay).

A visit to an emergency room - or to a doctor’s office or clinic that can provide immediate assistance - would be the best way to address a snake bite that presents serious symptoms.

If any doubt exists about the nature of a snake bite - whether it was from a venomous or non-venomous snake - medical attention should be sought as soon as possible.


NC Cooperative Extension Services - Top Ten Snake Questions - Snake Bite FAQ Non-Venomous Snakes