Snake Bite

Is this your symptom?

  • Bite from a snake

Some Basics...

  • Most snakes are not poisonous and their bites are harmless.
  • Non-poisonous snakebites can cause scrapes or small teeth marks at the bite site. The most common places for snakebites are on the hands and arms, or ankles and legs. This can happen when a person is bit by a snake while out walking. It can also happen when a person tries to handle or capture a snake.
  • Bites from poisonous snakes are more serious. These bites will have tiny puncture wounds at the bite site. A person bitten by a poisonous snake should get medical attention right away.

Types of Snakebites

  • Known poisonous snake
  • Known non-poisonous snake
  • Unknown (unidentified) snake

Poisonous Snakes

These snakebites result in 12-15 deaths per year in the United States. This is 1-2% of the total poisonous bites. There are two main families of poisonous snakes in the United States and Canada. They are Pit Vipers and the Coral Snakes.

  • Pit Vipers: Members of this group include rattlesnakes, copperheads, and cottonmouths (water moccasins). The poison from Pit Vipers first causes pain and swelling at the bite. It later causes weakness, nausea, and sweating.
  • Coral Snake: The poison from a Coral Snake is toxic to the nervous system. There may be a little swelling or pain at the bite mark. However, a bite can still cause severe weakness or paralysis. The snakes have bands of dark-red, yellow, and black. The red bands have yellow bands on each side. There is a rhyme to remember what these snakes look like. The rhyme is "Red on yellow, kill a fellow. Red on black, venom lack."

Poisonous Snakebites - Symptoms

Poisonous snakes have fangs that leave marks on the skin at the bite site. These marks will have 1-2 tiny puncture wounds.

  • No symptoms: In about 20% of poisonous snakebites, no poison is injected. These are called dry bites.
  • Local symptoms: If poison was injected, the bite will burn and hurt within 5 minutes. It will begin to swell within 30 minutes. An exception is the Coral Snake. Coral snakebites will have little pain or swelling. These bites will still cause severe weakness or paralysis.
  • Systemic symptoms: Nausea, sweating, and weakness may take a few hours to develop. The severity of symptoms depends on a number of factors. These include the amount and toxicity of poison injected and location of the bite. The size and species of the snake, and the size and age of the victim are also factors.

Non-Poisonous Snakebites

  • Most non-poisonous bites happen when people try to touch or capture snakes. They can also be from pet snakes.
  • These bites may appear as a semi-circular pattern of small teeth marks. Often, the small teeth of these snakes leave a scrape without a puncture wound. Non-poisonous snakes do not have fangs.

Unknown (Unidentified) Snakes

  • Sometimes the snake cannot be found after the bite. In other cases, the snake has been killed but is hard to identify. Most bites are from harmless snakes.
  • Assume that it is a non-poisonous bite if there is no local pain, swelling, or fang marks.

When to Call for Snake Bite

Call 911 Now

  • Passed out (fainted)
  • Very weak (can't stand)
  • Trouble waking up or acting confused
  • Trouble breathing
  • You think you have a life-threatening emergency

Call Doctor Now or Go to ER

  • Bite looks infected (spreading redness, pus) (Note: infection doesn't start until at least 24-48 hours after a bite)
  • You feel weak or very sick
  • You think you need to be seen, and the problem is urgent

Call Doctor Within 24 Hours

  • Last tetanus shot was over 10 years ago
  • You think you need to be seen, but the problem is not urgent

Call Doctor During Office Hours

  • You have other questions or concerns

Self Care at Home

  • Non-poisonous snakebite with no other problems

Care Advice for Non-Poisonous Snakebite

  1. What You Should Know:
    • Most snakes are not poisonous and their bites are harmless.
    • You can treat non-serious snakebites at home.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.
  2. Cleansing: Wash the bite with soap and water. Put an antibiotic ointment (over-the-counter) on the bite mark 1 time.
  3. Call Your Doctor If:
    • You get any other symptoms in the 6 hours after the snakebite
    • Bite looks infected (redness, swelling, warmth, tender to touch, or red streaks)
    • You think you need to be seen
    • You get worse

And remember, contact your doctor if you develop any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.

Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.


Last Reviewed: 8/20/2017 1:16:12 AM
Last Updated: 5/7/2017 1:36:18 PM

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