Summer in the Bluegrass brings ample opportunity for countless outdoor adventures and fun. From hiking in the Red River Gorge, lake boating, canoeing down Elkhorn Creek, or simply camping in your own backyard, Kentucky has the potential for all things nature. There is no better way to spend time in the outdoors then with your favorite canine friend. When doing so, it is important to be aware of Mother Nature’s pest control predators – snakes, especially the venomous variety.
Kentucky is home to four varieties of pit viper venomous snakes – Copperhead, Western Cottonmouth, Timber Rattlesnake, and Western Pigmy Rattlesnake. The Copperhead is our most common venomous snake and inhabits every county in the state. They get their name for their copper-colored heads. Their bodies contain hourglass-shaped bands that vary in color from chestnut to dark brown to copper. They live on the forest floor and hide in dead leaves for camouflage. Hiding is their preferred method of defense. When hiking keep your dog on a short leash walking on well-trodden trails to prevent the unexpected startling of a lounging Copperhead.
The Timber Rattlesnake has the second largest habitat range excluding northern Kentucky and the inner Bluegrass Region. They are also the largest variety of venomous snake in the state growing to an adult size of five feet in length. They are thick snakes that can be solid black in color or banded with a chevron-type pattern. They reside in the heavily wooded areas of western, central southern, and eastern Kentucky preferring rocky cliffs or bluffs. As with the Copperhead, use caution when hiking with your dog in the Timber Rattlesnakes territory avoiding rocky outcrops or tall grass. Most importantly, if you hear a rattle, do not approach. Leave the area in the opposite direction and never let your dog explore caves or tree stumps.
The Western Cottonmouth, more commonly called the water moccasin, is Kentucky’s third most prevalent venomous snake and most aggressive. When agitated, the cottonmouth may gape its mouth to reveal its white, cotton-colored interior. This species resides in western Kentucky in the Jackson Purchase and Western Coalfield regions. They prefer swamps, wetlands, and lakes in warmer spring and summer months. They migrate inland during cooler months. When boating or swimming in their territory, use caution and exit the vicinity if you or your dog sees a snake swimming with its head out of the water. Nonvenomous snakes swim with their heads on the water’s surface. The Western Cottonmouth does not.
The most rare species of venomous snake in Kentucky is the Western Pygmy Rattlesnake. They grow to only 1.5 feet in length and are grey in color with black spots. Their rattle is very small and sounds like a buzzing insect. They live in western Kentucky in the Land Between the Lakes region. The likelihood of a Western Pygmy Rattlesnake encounter is very low. However, if a snake bites your dog while enjoying Kentucky’s great outdoors, seek immediate medical attention. Identify the type of snake, if safe. Never allow your dog to play with a dead snake. Although deceased, the venom of a snake is still toxic. Biting a dead venomous snake could be lethal to your dog. Should your dog experience swelling, bleeding, pain, shortness of breath, weakness, low blood pressure, or dead tissue surrounding a wound after hiking or swimming in a lake, seek immediate medical attention. Check you dog for puncture wounds potentially indicating a snakebite. At the veterinary hospital, antivenim may be administered, hospitalization required, and hyperbaric oxygen therapy recommended. Although uncommon, snake bites can happen to your dog. Use caution when enjoying the outdoors with your best friend.