With habitats extending from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, the Gopher snake is one of the most common snakes in North America. Unless you are a reptile enthusiast, you prefer avoiding encounters with snakes, but what about dogs?
Are gopher snakes dangerous to dogs? Gopher snakes are not venomous, but same as all snakes, they bite when threatened. Sadly, gopher snake bites are painful and require an urgent and often hefty vet visit.
In this article, we talk about dog and gopher snake encounters – the dangers and potential consequences. We will also talk about what to do in cases of bites and list some common venomous and non-venomous snakes.
THE GOPHER SNAKE: A SHORT DESCRIPTION
The gopher snake (Pituophis catenifer) is a colubrid, constrictor, and non-venomous snake native to North America. It is particularly widespread and can be found in many places across the continent.
This solitary and diurnal snake is very territorial and exceptionally good at climbing and burrowing. It feeds on smaller mammals, birds, and eggs and represents a critical member of the ecosystem as it helps eradicate pests (gophers, rats, and mice).
ARE GOPHER SNAKES POISONOUS TO DOGS?
No, gopher snakes do not have venom glands meaning they are non-venomous. However, they are scary, mainly because of two reasons. First, their size, and second, the fact they are often misidentified as rattlesnakes.
Namely, the gopher snake’s coloration and defensive behavior are similar to those of rattlesnakes. When threatened, gopher snakes respond by flattening their heads, shaking their tails, and hissing loudly.
Although non-venomous, gopher snake encounters are scary, especially for dogs, as they tend to rush into situations without thinking about the consequences.
CAN GOPHER SNAKES BITE?
Yes, all snakes bite, and gopher snakes are not an exception. However, naturally, gopher snakes are not aggressive, meaning they will not attack and bite unless provoked or threatened.
Knowing when to back off is a useful piece of information for humans. Cats are also good at judging the situation and stepping away when the chances of successfully hunting down the gopher snake are slim.
However, dogs are not so rational, and if they spot a snake, they are likely to recklessly approach the gopher snake and initiate interaction – a situation that often ends up with the dog getting bitten by the gopher snake.
ARE GOPHER SNAKE BITES DANGEROUS TO DOGS?
Yes, basically all snake bites are dangerous, even when coming from non-venomous snakes. The most immediate and inevitable danger is pain. Being inflicted with two deep puncture wounds is painful and likely to throw your dog in distress mode.
Plus, non-venomous snake bites are linked with two complications:
- A bite wound infection – the gopher snake’s mouth is not particularly clean and carries an array of germs and potential pathogens. Considering that the puncture wounds the gopher snake inflicts are deep, these germs are inoculated deep into the dog’s skin and tissues. If these germs multiply, they will cause a local infection.
- A retained snake tooth – the gopher snake’s teeth are sharp but thin, and based on the circumstances, it is possible for them to break off and remain lodged in the puncture wound. In such cases, they increase the chances of infection and delay the bite wound healing.
WHAT TO DO IF A GOPHER SNAKE BITES YOUR DOG?
If your dog gets bitten by a gopher snake, first aid is mandatory. To make sure you properly address the snake bite, just follow these steps:
- Step 1: Rinse the wound – in case of a gopher snake bite, the first thing you must do is rinse the bite wound thoroughly using fresh and clean water.
- Step 2: Use a mild antibacterial soap – once the wound is rinsed, you can apply a small amount of antibacterial soap to disinfect the area. Never use hydrogen peroxide as it damages the tissues and delays healing.
- Step 3: Dry the bite wound – use a soft cotton pad or towel to dry the bite wound. Do not rub or cause any kind of friction, as this will worsen the irritation. Simply compress the pad/towel and hold it until it absorbs the moisture.
- Step 4: Do not put a bandage over the wound – when managing wounds, we are often tempted to cover them with a bandage. This is a mistake as it prevents the wound from breathing and creates a perfect breeding ground for bacteria.
Once you have provided first-aid, it is time to call the vet and announce your visit. First aid is not a substitute for visiting your veterinarian. The vet will have to examine your dog and once again clean the wound (or maybe even remove a broken gopher snake tooth from the puncture site). Then, based on the circumstances, prescribe a pain reliever or topical antibiotic ointment.
HOW TO KEEP GOPHER SNAKES AWAY FROM YOUR DOG?
As mentioned, the gopher snake is among the most widespread snakes, and it is impossible to completely avoid encounters. However, there are some precaution measures for minimizing the chances of your dog meeting a gopher snake.
Tip number 1: Eliminate food and water sources
Do not keep food and water sources around the house as these attract pests (gophers, mice, and rats) and smaller wildlife (skunks, rabbits), which in turn attract gopher snakes. You should also avoid storing the dog food bag in the basement as pests like mice and rats love feeding on crunchy kibble. Instead, make sure you put the content of the bag in an air-tight container.
Tip number 2: Snake-proof the garden
Keeping the grass low and using finely crushed gravel in the garden are efficient snake-proofing methods as gopher snakes love hanging out in tall grasses and bushes. If gopher snakes pay frequent visits to your garden, it is a good idea to invest in a snake barrier. However, do not use snake traps as they are cruel and do not use snake-repelling plants (garlic and onion plants repel snakes, but they are toxic to dogs).
Tip number 3: Avoid walking your dog in certain areas
You should be familiar with the common habitats of gopher snakes and avoid taking your dog walking in such places. Although gopher snakes can live anywhere, from prairies through deserts to conifer forests, they are most likely to be found in semi-arid brushed areas near farms.
Tip number 4: Snake aversion training for dogs
If you live in a snake-riddles area, we suggest snake avoidance training. This training is vital because dogs are not naturally inclined to avoid snake encounters. On the contrary, they are curious and likely to put snakes in defense mode. In the past, the snake aversion training tool of choice was the shock collars. Luckily, today this technique is replaced with positive reinforcement approaches.
WHAT OTHER SNAKES ARE DANGEROUS TO DOGS?
Out of the 50 snake species found in North America, 21 are venomous (for both dogs and their owners). The group of venomous snakes includes fifteen rattlesnake species, two coral snakes, two water moccasins, the copperhead snake, and the cottonmouth snake.
The most commonly encountered venomous snakes include the following species:
- Dusky Pygmy Rattlesnake
- Eastern Diamondback Rattlesnake
- Timber Rattlesnake
- Eastern Coral Snake.
SUMMING UP: THE DANGERS OF GOPHER SNAKES TO DOGS
Just because they are non-venomous, it does not mean gopher snakes are not dangerous to dogs. A gopher snake bite is painful, likely to become infected, and warrants an urgent trip to the vet’s office.
Plus, witnessing your dog being bitten by a gopher snake will put you in distress mode, and in a moment of panic, you are likely to confuse this serpent with its extremely venomous look-alike – the rattlesnake.