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BellaOnline's Reptiles and Amphibians Editor

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Preventing and Dealing with Reptile Bites

Guest Author - Peyton Creadick

Perhaps, I taste bad. Even the Tokay Gecko who bit me did not hold on. Iím luckier than most. I have been bitten by a few fat-tail and leopard geckos, a Tokay, and twice by a ball python. If youíre lucky, and it didnít break the skin, try to figure out what you did to cause the bite. Sure, some reptile species are more aggressive than others. If you put your hand into an unfamiliar Tokay Geckoís cage like I did, you will be bitten. I had no choice. I worked in a pet store.


Preventing Being Bitten:

Wash hands between handling prey items and handling snakes. You shouldnít handle a snake after feeding, but if you own potential prey items as pets or are breeding your own feeders, you may find yourself smelling of them quite easily. In my case, I smelled of mice. If you smell like dinner, you will be bitten.

Pay attention to the posture and positioning of the animal, especially when entering its cage. There are usually warning signs. If you know your pet, you should be able to catch the signs. Hissing, a twitching tail (like my fat-tail before dinner last night), an open mouth (often comes with the hissing), backing or moving away, taking an aggressive posture (like extending the dewlap) etc. are all signs of impending doom for your hands, face, etc. Some signs like snapping are fairly obvious as biting indicators. Other signs require you to pay closer attention.

Donít handle a hungry snake. Feed it. In general, if theyíre hungry (especially if really hungry), your hand seems like food. Theyíre not thinking about whether the moving item smells like a normal prey item. My hands can attest to that!

Donít keep prey items in the same room with carnivores. I also made THIS mistake. If the room smells like dinner, a hungry herp is more likely to think you are dinner, too. Would you try to interact with a tiger in a room full of deer or in a butcherís shop? I bet not!

Handle your herp often. Be disciplined. Most won't be happy to see you if all you've done is feed them. Some, like fat-tail geckos, don't really eb and flow in terms of tameness but most will become less comfortable with handling if not handled regularly.

Handle your snake between feedings; otherwise, it will associate you (your hands especially) with food, and you will significantly increase your chances of being bitten.

Be respectful, even a reptile as small as a leopard gecko can cause a deep bite requiring stitches. Being aware of this may keep you from doing something resulting in such an injury.


When You Get Bitten:

Try not to pull your hand away, especially if the animal is larger. You may do more damage or trigger him to lock on. Perhaps, this is why the Tokay didnít latch onto my hand and instead jumped away. He was small enough not to startle me into pulling back, and he lept away. I've had friends who were not so lucky.

If you are holding the animal, try not to drop it. I dropped the ball python who bit me, BOTH TIMES. Luckily, I am short, but even a short fall at the right angle can cause injury. I was bitten horribly by my first female hamster when trying to put her into her cage. I now have an irrational fear of being bitten. Even a nip makes me want to release my hands. I have to fight, so I anticipate such situations and try to make sure I canít be put in a position of being bitten.

A common suggestion is to put the herp under water. I really don't advocate this. If the herp aspirates (takes water into the lungs) you could find yourself with a sick animal and some not-so-fun vet bills.

I've never had to force an animal to unclamp my hand. Again, I don't recommend water. Anapsid.org (Melissa Kaplan) recommends a tissue soaked with alcohol or ammonia, and tilting the animal forward to prevent aspiration. Again, I have no experience with this. I've included a link to Anapsid's article for those seeking further suggestions.


After You Get Bitten:

If the animal has let go, assess the wound. Is it deep? If so, see a doctor. Make sure to let the doctor know that reptiles can carry gram negative bacteria in their mouths as this will influence the doctorís choice of antibiotics.

Regardless of depth, clean the wound well with water and antibacterial soap. If you have alcohol, Bactine, or iodine, swab the wound with this as well. If you keep reptiles, consider keeping one of these on hand.

If the bite is shallow, apply Neosporin or a similar product and watch the wound for a few days. If you feel it needs a bandage, apply one. Thankfully, my bites have never left enough of an injury to require bandages.

If the bite is deep, clean it as thoroughly as possible. If you have the skills, flush the wound with sterile saline. Apply a breathable bandage (if possible), and see a doctor as previously advised. You may need stitches.

If you require a bandage, make sure to give the wound some air time between bandagings.

When in doubt, clean the wound thoroughly, apply a bandage, and see a doctor. I can't stress the doctor aspect enough.


Now That You Know:

Be careful out there. Every herp owner is bound to be bitten at least once in his or her life. If you follow the rules in this article, youíll decrease your chances of it happening to you, but youíre never immune from the risk.


Happy Herping!
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Content copyright © 2014 by Peyton Creadick. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Peyton Creadick. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact BellaOnline Administration for details.

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