June 17, 2024

Snakes in North Carolina: Protecting Your Dog This Summer

Medically reviewed by Ruby Wistreich, RVT and Bradley J. Waffa, MSPH, DVM

Summer in North Carolina: you’re probably envisioning warm weather, blooming flowers, and opportunities for plenty of outdoor adventures! If you live in NC, you’re probably also aware that this season brings peak activity for some of nature’s most misunderstood creatures too: snakes. Being “cold-blooded” (i.e. deriving their body heat from external sources), snakes are much more active during the summer, and the likelihood of encountering one increases, especially in rural and wooded areas. As a responsible dog owner, it’s essential to understand how to protect your pets from snakebites and what to do if one occurs.


Common Snakes in North Carolina

North Carolina is home to nearly 40 species of snakes, only a small handful of which are venomous, and an even smaller handful of that handful poses a potential hazard to you or your pets. Snakes play a crucial role in the ecosystem, providing an important food source for birds of prey and other carnivores, and they also help control dozens of pests, including rodents, and by association, the ticks and other parasites they carry that can transmit diseases to us and our pets (e.g. Lyme disease). The snake species you’re most likely to encounter in NC varies by region, but a common cast of characters includes:

Racers: Living up to their name, these speedy snakes may inadvertently startle you, but they are entirely harmless and help control many pest species in NC.

Rat snakes: This group includes common black rat snakes and corn snakes, which are abundant in all parts of NC. They are slow-moving compared to racers (with whom they’re commonly confused) and quite docile.

Kingsnakes: King snakes and milk snakes are another group of snakes found across NC. They are also harmless and somewhat famous for their diet, which frequently consists of other snakes, especially copperheads and other venomous species.

Copperheads: The most common venomous snake in North Carolina. Though very painful, their bites are almost never fatal to humans and only rarely fatal to pets.

Cottonmouths (Water Moccasins): Less common in NC than most people realize, the rare bite from this snake is managed much like those from the closely related copperhead. These are frequently confused with harmless water snakes who share their habitat, similar markings, and affinity for bodies of water.

Rattlesnakes: These venomous snakes are more geographically isolated in NC but potentially more dangerous where they occur. They are characterized by a rattle at the end of their tail and will generally offer you a courtesy alert if you stray too close. Tail rattling is a common behavior in snakes, leading many to mistake harmless snake species for rattlers.


Protecting Your Dog from Snakebites

Here are some practical tips to reduce the risk of snakebites during your summer outings:

Setting matters: Venomous snakes are most active at dusk and into the evening, especially after rain on a warm summer night. They like “fringe habitat”—the boundary between two different habitat types (e.g., a sidewalk and bed of ivy)—so they can quickly retreat if threatened. Be particularly vigilant on these evenings and thoughtful about where you walk your dog.

Situational awareness: Get off your phone while walking or supervising your dog and carry a flashlight when walking your pet at night when snakes are most active (and wear close-toed shoes!)
Keep your dog leashed. Dogs are often bitten by snakes while investigating or harassing them, so quickly intervening without putting yourself in harm’s way is crucial.

Keep your yard clean: At home, maintain your yard by keeping the grass short, removing woodpiles, and sealing gaps under sheds and decks where snakes might hide.

Supervise playtime: Always supervise your dog when playing outside, especially in areas known for snake activity.

Leave the snake alone: Your dog is likely to emulate your level of concern, and tampering with the snake puts you and your dog at substantial risk.


What to Do If Your Dog Gets Bitten

Despite our best efforts, snakebites still occur. Here’s what to do if a snake bites your dog:

Stay calm: Try to remain calm and keep your dog calm too. Remember that most NC snakes are harmless, venomous snakebite fatalities in NC are the exception (not the rule), and a certain percentage turn out to be “dry” bites where no or minimal venom is injected.

Identify the snake: If you can do so safely, try to identify the snake. This information can be helpful for your vet. Do not attempt to catch or kill the snake, but snap a photo if you can do so safely.

Minimize movement: Keep your dog as calm and still as possible. Carry them to the car if possible.

Seek immediate veterinary care: Time is of the essence with venomous snakebites. Call your vet or the nearest veterinary urgent care or emergency clinic to let them know you’re on your way. You should bring your pet for evaluation even if it is not yet showing symptoms or you’re unsure if the snake is venomous. Some bites can worsen over several hours, and timely intervention is essential.


What Happens at the Vet

When you arrive at the veterinary clinic, the medical team will act quickly to assess and stabilize your dog as necessary. Here’s a detailed look at what you can expect:

Initial Assessment

History taking: The veterinary team will ask for details about the bite incident, such as the type of snake (if known) and the time since the bite, since this will help form a treatment plan.

Physical examination: The vet will perform a thorough physical exam to check the location and severity of the bite, assess vital signs, and look for signs of envenomation, such as swelling, bruising, and pain.



Many owners witness the snakebite, but a significant bite can often be confirmed visually if in doubt. Sometimes, shaving the site can allow better visualization of the wound.

Blood pressure: Used to help assess your dog’s stability and immediate, systemic response.

Labwork: Blood tests are essential to assess your dog’s overall health and to determine the extent of the envenomation. These tests can reveal important information that may influence treatment.

Examples of standard bloodwork panels include:

Coagulation Profile: To evaluate for clotting problems since some snake venoms can interfere with the body’s ability to stop bleeding.

Complete Blood Count (CBC): To examine the health of your dog’s red and white blood cell lines. Cell changes can help support an uncertain diagnosis and reflect the severity of the dog’s reaction to the bite.

Blood chemistry panel: This panel evaluates organ function, including the kidneys and liver, that might be affected by the venom and helps determine suitability for certain treatments.

Because snakebites can worsen over time, establishing these baseline bloodwork parameters can also help assess changes in your dog’s condition.

Imaging: while not often needed to confirm a snakebite, X-rays or ultrasound may be recommended to screen for concurrent problems that could complicate treatment



Treatment of snakebite varies significantly across regions and even from case to case. This is because there’s enormous variability due to the diversity of snake species in different locations, their different venom profiles, variations in the amount of venom injected from case to case, and each patient’s individual response. Common treatment considerations include:

Antivenom: If the bite is severe from a venomous snake, the vet may administer antivenom. This treatment can neutralize the venom, but its effectiveness is highest when given soon after the bite. Not every snake bite needs antivenom as a treatment.

Intravenous fluids: IV fluids help maintain blood pressure, support organ function, and manage shock.

Pain relief and anti-inflammatory medications: These medications are crucial for managing pain and reducing swelling.

Antibiotics: While not generally indicated, some veterinarians will prescribe these out of an abundance of caution with concern for secondary infections


Monitoring and Follow-up

Hospitalization: Your dog may need to stay at the clinic for observation, especially if the bite was severe or occurred late at night. The vet will monitor for complications such as tissue necrosis or systemic effects.

Continued care: Once your dog is stable, you will receive instructions for home care, which might include wound care, administering medications, an e-collar to protect against self-trauma, and/or temporary restrictions on your dog’s activity to ensure a smooth recovery.


Snakes are an integral part of North Carolina’s ecosystem, and they generally seek to avoid interactions with humans and our pets. As the landscape changes due to increased development, climate change, and other forces, these interactions are increasingly common, and venomous snakes can pose a risk to our pets. By taking preventive measures and knowing how to respond in the event of a snakebite, you can reduce the likelihood of such an event and be better prepared to manage it were it to ever occur.

If you have specific questions about your pet and a possible interaction with a snake, consult your local veterinarian immediately.


Are you worried about your dog? Contact Truss Vet by calling, booking online, or visiting one of our locations!