Snake bites and your pet

Dog w snake

Armed with curiosity and natural hunting instincts, it is not uncommon for our favourite four legged friends to cross paths with a snake. Even city dogs and cats can have these encounters, especially around in bush areas or local parks.

As snakes hibernate or are inactive during cold weather, snake bites usually occur in the summer months. Australia has a large number of venomous snakes, but Tasmania only has three:

First Aid

If you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake you should try to keep him/her calm and quiet, and take your pet to vet IMMEDIATELY. The sooner your pet is treated, the better their chances of survival.

Do NOT put yourself risk by attempting to identify or kill the snake. You could put yourself in danger.  Tasmanian species are quite variable in colour and are impossible to definitively identify other than by experienced snake handlers. Also, Australian snakes are protected species.

Signs of Snake bite  

Several factors will determine what sort of reaction your pet has to a snake bite. The type of snake, the amount of venom injected, and the site of the snake bite are all contributing factors.

Dogs and cats are most often bitten around the head and limbs. The bite marks are often too small to see.

The signs of snake bite by a tiger or brown snake are varied. They may show some or all of the following signs:

  • Sudden weakness or collapse.
  • Shaking or twitching of the muscles.
  • Vomiting.
  • Dilated pupils not responsive to light.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • In the later stages paralysis may occur.

Veterinary Treatment

Firstly your veterinarian will examine your pet, assess the clinical sign they are showing and determine the best course of action. Further diagnostic tests may be required to determine if your pet has actually been bitten and sometimes it is useful to identify the type of snake via a snake bite detection kit.

Veterinary treatment varies with each individual case, how severe the symptoms are and how rapidly the symptoms progress. Treatment usually consists of intravenous fluids and the administration of antivenom to neutralise the snake venom in the pet’s body.

Other supportive care may also be required – including oxygen supplementation and even breathing for the pet if they are not breathing well on their own. This needs to continue until the circulating antivenom has been neutralised and any bound venom has worn off.

Recovery

Approximately 80% of pets survive snake bite if treated quickly. The survival rate is much lower however for pets that are left untreated, and death can occur.

Recovery from a snake bite usually takes 24 to 48 hours if the pet receives prompt veterinary attention and the snake bite is not severe. However, some pets will take substantially longer to make a full recovery due to tissue damage to internal organs and will require intensive and prolonged nursing care.

Precautions

Dogs are inquisitive by nature. When exercising them in bushland (particularly near water) or near beach dunes during the warmer months of the year, always use a leash.

Cats are naturally born to hunt and stalk anything that moves. The best way to prevent a deadly snake bite is to keep your cats indoors.

If you live in the outer suburbs or semi-rural areas, keep your backyard clear of long grass, and remove any piles of rubbish. This will help to reduce the number of hiding spots for snakes to reside in.