This article appears courtesy of:
Alpine Animal Hospital
7047 Great Alpine Road
Porepunkah, VICTORIA. 3740
Ph: (03) 5756 2444
Spring and Summer Peak Snake Periods
Spring and summer are extremely dangerous period for pets in the Shoalhaven and Illawarra region. The warm weather sees a multitude of snakes appearing in back yards, long grass and the bush.
Envenomation from toxins contained in snake venom is always a serious and life threatening incident and must be treated swiftly to save the life of a pet that has been bitten.
If your pet is unfortunate enough to have an encounter with a snake you can help by being aware of the signs and symptoms of snake bite, and getting the affected animal to the hospital as quickly as possible. Dogs, cats and horses are all at risk, although curious dogs are the most frequently affected.
Unfortunately, we do lose the ocassional pet before we have a chance to treat them. We suspect snakes coming out of their winter rest have unusually large amounts of potent toxin to ensure they get a quick feed to fill their empty stomachs.
Types of Snakes
Around Berry and Shoalhaven Heads, we see mostly Red Bellied Black snakes. Tiger and Brown snakes are also prevalent, especially on Coolangatta Mountain and adjacent flat lands.
The first clue that a pet has been bitten may just be a small amount of blood on the coat, face or limb with a some soft tissue swelling around a small puncture wound(s).
Depending on the type of snake and how much venom has been injected, an animal bitten by a snake may show any of the following symptoms:
- Localized swelling and irritation
- Rapid breathing and/or panting
- Dilated pupils unresponsive to bright light
- Involuntary bladder or bowel release
- Red or brown discolouration of urine
- Bleeding from bite wounds or bloody diarrhoea due to clotting problems
- Collapse. An animal may collapse immediately but then apparently recover, then develop symptoms over the course of the next hour
- Paralysis (starting with the hind legs and progressing towards the head)
What Type of Snake Bit Your Pet?
There are a few signs that can indicate what type of snake has envenomated your pet:
- When bitten by brown snakes, some pets may experience a sudden collapse followed by a temporary recovery
- Black snake bites will often create an area of localized swelling and irritation
If you witness the snake biting your pet and can identify it, you should tell us. But don't waste time trying to find it as we stock a multi-snake anti-venom that covers Black, Tiger and Brown snake bites.
Most snake bites in humans occur when people try to kill snakes, often after seeing them bite a pet. It’s generally best to leave the snake alone — it’s just doing what snakes do after all — and concentrate on helping your pet.
Phone 4448 5621 (24 Hours) immediately if suspect a snake bite
Calling ahead gives us critical extra time to make necessary preparations to ensure prompt and effective treatment.
When you call, listen very carefully to the announcements, and then call the emergency mobile number on the message (Mark sometimes has a night off with the after hours phone going to another vet).
Please do not come directly to the hospital and wander around the car park. If we are at home, have the after hours going to another vet, or are out on a house call, you will be using up what might be precious time - always call first! It could save your pet’s life.
Emergency First Aid
- Keep your pet calm
- an elevated heart rate allows the venom to move more quickly through the bloodstream
- If a limb has been bitten, bandage the entire leg firmly
- this limits venom moving upwards between moving limb muscles
- Keep the pet still
- this limits vemon movement through the lymphatics
- Do not use a tourniquet to cut off circulation
- If your pet has stopped breathing, attempt mouth to nose resuscitation and if possible continue this during transport of your pet to the hospital.
At the hospital, treatment for snake envenomation may use some or all of the following techniques/procedures:
- Intravenous fluids to maintain blood pressure and protect the kidneys
- Intravenous medications and anti-venom. Some animals will need multiple doses. This is the most expensive part of the therapy with each dose of anti-venom costing several hundred dollars
- If breathing is restricted, setup an intra-nasal or trans-tracheal oxygen supply (an oxygen tube is inserted into the windpipe just below the voice box and passed down to the lungs)
- Special feeding tubes to provide nutrition if the food pipe (oesophagus) muscles are affected
Treatment usually involves hospitalisation for at least 24 hours. In some cases your pet may be in the hospital for several days. After being discharged we recommend they be confined and rested for up to two weeks.
It is possible for your pet to be bitten by a snake and not become envenomated. In cases where clinical and laboratory evidence shows that the animal has not been envenomated we may only need to monitor your pet for any delayed symptoms for 12 – 24 hours.
These days the treatment of snake bite has a good success rate, and with appropriate and timely medical therapy many patients recover completely. But treating snake bite is always arduous for the affected pet, as well as for the vet and the nurses. And a very anxious time for caring pet parents.
The unfortunate animal will require constant monitoring, day and night, every one or two hours for the first 24 hours then every three hours for the next two days, with high rate intravenous infusions, blood clotting products and regular blood tests. Consequently, it can be expensive, although it may be covered by pet health insurance if you have it. But it’s always better to keep your pets out of likely snake habitat and avoid the risk.
- While bush walking, stay on open paths as off-trail hiking can stir up snakes
- Keep your dog on a leash and away from high grass and rocky outcrops in which snakes like to rest
- Don't let the dog explore holes or dig under rocks or logs
- Your best bet is to stay vigilant and keep control of your dog when walking in snake habitats
- If you see a snake that sees you, give the snake time to just go away. Snakes are not looking to interact with people or pets, either defensively or aggressively
- Don't let your pet examine "road kill" snakes. It may not be dead, only injured
- Don't handle a dead or injured snake - not even a decapitated head
Repellants and Removal
- Set up physical barriers e.g. fences that are set into the ground or have hessian along their base
- Cut off the snake's food and water supply e.g. left over pet food and water bowls, bird feeders
- Mow closely around the house
- Store firewood away from the house
- Remove junk piles or any sort of hidey holes e.g. nooks and crannies in the chook shed
- Remove weeds and brush
- Plug up holes in the ground and gaps around buildings or structures
If a snake needs removal from the property, contact WIRES to ask for theie recommended local snake handler.