Australia is home to some of the most dangerous snakes in the world, and although they are not normally aggressive unless approached, they can cause a serious issue for pet owners, especially during the warmer months
Last year in Australia, nearly 6,500 domestic pets suffered snake bites, with the deadly Brown and Tiger snakes accounting for the vast majority of cases. As snakes hibernate during the colder months, many of these cases occur during the spring and summer when they become more active to seek out prey and fill their empty bellies. Combine this with the natural curiosity and hunting instincts of our four-legged friends and it is no surprise that these two can cross paths as the weather heats up.
How will my pet react to a snake bite?
- The type of snake – some species are more venomous than others, but it is important to note that the deadly Brown and Tiger snakes account for most bites in pets.
- The amount of venom injected – in spring and early summer, snakes’ venom glands tend to be fuller, resulting in a more severe bite, however, the size and maturity of the snake will also be a contributing factor.
- The site of the snake bite – generally, the closer to the heart the quicker the venom spreads around the body. However, some venom is slow-acting, meaning that the pet will not always react immediately but will progressively display signs.
Approximately 80% of pets survive a snake bite if treated quickly, so recognising the symptoms and a prompt response is vital. Here are our top 4 tips for keeping your pet safe during snake season:
1. Know the symptoms
Although symptoms will vary depending on the factors listed above, contact your vet immediately if your pet displays any of these signs:
- Sudden weakness and collapse – this may be followed by your pet getting up again and seeming normal, this symptom is characteristic of snake bites!
- Trembling, shaking or twitching of the muscles
- Unsteadiness, weakness in the hind legs
- Diarrhoea, vomiting
- Excessive salivation, drooling, frothing at the mouth
- Respiratory distress
- Bloody urine
- Dilated pupils
- Bite wound – In the majority of cases, the bite site is not found and there is very little notable pain or swelling, so do not rely on this to identify whether or not your pet has been bitten by a snake!
Remember, if you’re not sure whether your pet has been bitten, contact your local vet for advice. Delays in treatment can be fatal!
2. Seek immediate veterinary assistance
Most pets will survive a snake bite if treated promptly, so seeking immediate veterinary attention is critical. If you believe your pet has been bitten, call your local vet to let them know you are on your way, that way the team will be able to make arrangements and be prepared to treat your pet as soon as you arrive.
Snake bite ID kits are used to determine whether antivenom is required and which antivenom to use. DO NOT attempt to bring a live snake to assist in identification. Antivenom is administered to treat the bite but fluids and other supportive care will also be required.
If your pet requires treatment, this usually involves hospitalisation for at least 12-24 hours and in some cases, several days. When your pet is discharged home, your vet will recommend confined rest for 1-2 weeks.
3. Administer emergency treatment before transport to the vet
- To minimize the amount of venom that is absorbed via the blood stream, it is important to keep your pet as still as possible. Carry your pet to the car and into the vet surgery, or request staff help you once you have arrived.
- If your pet is not breathing, contact the veterinary clinic immediately who will give your instructions for mouth to nose breathing and CPR.
- Remember to keep calm and quiet as increasing your pets stress levels could cause the venom to be circulated around the body more quickly.
4. Take precautions
Unfortunately, the vast majority of bite cases occur simply due to pets being in the wrong place at the wrong time. However, prevention is always better than cure so taking precautions to avoid snake encounters is highly recommended.
- Keep your backyard tidy – cut the grass regularly, keep walkways clear of foliage, fill holes in the ground, clear undergrowth, and remove tools and toys which could act as hiding places.
- Clean up spilled food, fruit or bird seed – no matter how clean your backyard, there are always opportunities for snakes to enter your property, so reducing the number of attractants is essential. Food, fruit, and seeds are likely to attract rodents which in turn attract snakes.
- Walk your dog on a leash – your dog is less likely to have a snake encounter if they are by your side. Keeping your dog on a lead and away from high grass, holes, and rocks will help to keep them safe from hidden snakes.
- Keep your cat indoors – cats, like dogs, are inquisitive by nature and their natural instinct to hunt can unfortunately lead to dangerous situations. By keeping your cat indoors, you can be sure that they are safe from these life-threatening encounters.
- Leave it to the experts – If you do happen to see a snake, keep your pet at a safe distance but DO NOT attempt to kill or capture it! Call a local snake catcher immediately and follow their instructions.
A bite from a venomous snake can be life-threatening for our pets but the good news is that with appropriate and timely medical treatment, many pets make a full recovery. If you notice symptoms of a snake bite in your pet, contact your local vet immediately.