Venom in captivity!

17 Apr

Prescription for Owning Venomous Pet Ownership

In no way am I trying to be a fear monger.  That’s the number one thing I want to get across before even starting this article. I will simply state the facts that I have learned through my personal experience over the past twelve years as a keeper of venomous pets and those who have been gracious enough to share their own experiences with me.

Risk of ownership

The unfortunate fact when it comes to keeping venomous pets is that there is no way to know how your body will react to an envenomation until after it occurs.  This in and of itself could lead to disastrous results due to an allergic reaction to the venom.  In order to prevent an envenomation or at least minimize the risks of an envenomation through quicker response time there a few simple steps which we as keepers can take.  These steps are in no way a guarantee of your safety but they will increase your chances of obtaining proper medical care when an envenomation occurs.  These steps are indeed better than just hoping you have enough time to get medical treatment should you require it.  With the above let me acknowledge that I indeed know many people who work regularly with venomous animals and have never been envenomated yet.  I say yet, because they themselves have told me personally that it’s only a matter of time before an “accidental” envenomation occurs.

The Truth about Venom

Everyone that owns venomous pets that I associate with have immediate protocols in place should they become envenomated.  These protocols should be in place for any venomous animal that is owned whether it is a Rose Hair Tarantula Gramastola rosea or a Mexican Beaded Lizard Heloderma horridum.  When it comes to venom there are no guarantees of how your body will react to an envenomation.  While one person may experience bee sting like symptoms you may experience anaphylaxis or have a severe allergic reaction.  According to a report done by David B.K. Golden, M.D. “Insect sting anaphylaxis occurs in 3% of people stung by insects[i] and can be fatal at the first occurrence.”

I could find no “statistical data” on anaphylactic reactions to snake bites involving envenomation.  However, an interesting fact is this, 50% of all venomous snake bites are what are known as “dry” bites.  This means that no venom is injected.  So as you can see for yourself, the risks for owning venomous animals when it comes to reptiles and insects anyway, are pretty low.  I ask you though, what happens when that other 50% happens. Or what if you find yourself in that 3%.  Are you ready?  Are your family and friends prepared?  As stated earlier, the only way to find out if you are in the 3% is to actually be envenomated.

The very first question I have for anyone who wants to own a venomous pet of any kind is “Why?”  Owning a “regular” pet in itself is a longtime commitment in the first place.  Pets require care on a daily basis and if these requirements are not met it will inevitably cause health issues with your pet which, if you’re a responsible keeper will cost you money by taking the pet to a qualified veterinarian.  Now then add to this the fact that you own a venomous animal and the stakes are increased.  Now, you have an animal which when sick is not just displeased but is also venomous and this increases the risk for any veterinarian given the fact that you can find one that will agree to treat a venomous animal.

The above doesn’t begin to take into account the potential risk to family, friends, and even other family pets.  Too many people take owning a venomous pet lightly and a growing number of them become complacent over time.  This eventually leads the “accidental” envenomation.  I’m not saying that all people who own venomous pets are irresponsible in anyway.  I know many people that own and even breed venomous animals for the pet industry.  These same people are also very aware of the risks involved and take steps to prevent envenomation.  About half of them have been bitten at one time or another by their pets but none of them thankfully had a serious reaction.


The protocols I will outline should be in place for anyone who decides to keep a venomous animal for pet.

1)       Keep the pet in a secured enclosure with some type of keyed lock on the enclosure.

2)       Never handle the animal unless absolutely necessary.

3)       Know where the closest emergency room is and the fastest route to it.

4)       Have the emergency room on speed dial or in the phones memory, at minimum have the number posted next to the phone.

5)       Post documentation which explains the genus, species, and type of venom near or next to the enclosure.

These simple five steps may one day save your life should you ever want to own a venomous pet.  At some point in the animals’ lifespan you will inevitably have to move it; whether this is for cleaning or for a veterinarian visit.  This is easily facilitated by the construction and use of what is commonly known as a “trap box”.  This is a box or shelter that has a bottom to it and to which the entrance can be closed therefore “trapping” the animal inside.

Never at anytime should you ever “free handle” a venomous animal of any kind.  This only serves to increase your chances of being envenomated.  The risks far outweigh the benefits of free handling of any venomous pet.

Typical Venomous Pets

For the most part, I would venture to say that most people who own or want to own a venomous animal are generally looking towards the insects such as arachnids.  Arachnids include spiders and scorpions but there are also other “bug” type animals such as centipedes which are commonly sold on the open market.  I think it worthy to note here that there are no known antivenin treatments for scorpion and centipede envenomations.  Working with these animals personally; I have found that the best thing to do when trying to move or work around them and avoiding envenomation is to use a Tupperware container with air holes punched into the lid.  The pets are typically easily herded into the container and the lid put into place without too much stress on either me or the pet.

In closing I will go back to the original question.  “Why do you want to own a venomous animal?”  Be honest about this and really think this through.  Don’t just make an impulse buy because you think its ‘cool’ to own one or using the pets ownership as a status symbol.  The other end of the spectrum is that you are in fact truly interested in the animal itself.  This is the only reason you should ever own a pet especially a venomous one.


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