Snakes are prevalent during the warmer months between October and April.
Snakes will generally try to avoid people and pets. However, on occasions, pets will try to harass a snake and end up getting bitten. And this was he case for three dogs this week. (Two of which died — so beware!)
Snakes can only strike half the length of their body, so either let the snake slither away or always walk around them giving them a space between you and the pet. Don't allow pets to examine “dead-appearing” snakes as they may not be dead or if dead, their fangs may still contain venom. Native snakes are also a protected species, so it is illegal to kill a snake, not to mention how dangerous this would be.
Snakebites are complex problems. The severity of the reaction depends on the snake type, the age of snake, season and size of pet. Thankfully, most pets survive if treated early. Depending on the snake and venom type, pets can have mild muscular effects to severe shock and death.
Snakes come into residential areas to:
- Look for food e.g. rodents
- Seek shelter e.g. junk piles
- Seek irrigated areas particularly in periods of drought
- Find sources of fresh water
The following are snakes are more prevalent in the Southern Highlands and at the Mittagong Veterinary Hospital we have seen cases of dog and cat bites from all the following types of snake.
- Brown snake
- Red-bellied black snake
- Tiger Snake
- and a few more.
Types of snake venom
- Neurotoxin — affects the nerves that control movement and breathing
- Haemotoxin — affects the blood clotting system
- Myotoxin — affects the muscles
- Cytotoxin — affects the cells at the bite site
- And more!!!!! SNAKES HAVE MANY OTHER TOXINS WHICH ARE LIFE THREATENING!
What to do if your pet is bitten by a snake
- Seek veterinary attention immediately
- Take a photo of the snake if possible
- Muzzle your pet to avoid being bitten
- If a limb has been bitten, immobilise the limb safely
- Keep the pet calm - carry if possible
- Try to keep the bite site below the level of the heart
Cut over the fang marks in an attempt to remove the venom
Suck out the venom
Try and capture or kill the snake. This is a common way for people to be bitten and its is illegal. (Call a local snake catcher).
Touch the bitten area in any way
Icepack or tourniquet the area
Allow the pet to run freely
Signs of snake envenomation are usually seen within 1-24 hours.
- Vomiting shortly after being bitten
- Bleeding from the wound
- Enlarged pupils
- Hind leg weakness e.g. staggering
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Pale gums
- Acute Pulmonary Haemorrhage (as was seen by a dog death at Mittagong Veterinary Hospital this week, and which is reported following brown snake bites).
The initial goal of treatment is to reduce the venom from circulating in large quantities throughout the body, without confining it all to the bite region as this can cause severe muscle damage.
Antivenin is administered under close observation as some pets can form a severe allergic reaction to it. Antivenin is commercially produced serum that can help neutralise the effects of snake venom. A specific antibody is needed for each type of snake, so it is important that the snake can be identified.
If the snake cannot be identified, your vet may recommend a number of diagnostic tests:
- Snake venom detection kit
- Blood clotting test
- Muscle enzymes levels
- Neurological tests
Wound clean or surgery may be recommended if large areas of dead tissue are present at the bite. This is typically required days to weeks after the bite.
Snakebite treatment can be costly. Antivenin alone is extremely expensive. Occasionally, multiple doses of antivenin are required, particularly in cases where a high dose of snake venom has been injected. If a pet requires emergency hospitalisation and a ventilator, the costs can rise rapidly in the thousands of dollars.
The quicker the treatment, the better the prognosis. Over 6000 pets are bitten each year in Australia, and with early antivenin treatment, 91% of cats and 75% of dogs can survive.
It is important to note that severely poisoned pets can take 2-3 weeks to return to full health. Snake venom can have widespread and prolonged effects on the pet's muscles and organs.
- Walk pets on open paths away from long grass and rocks
- Keep your pet on a leash
- Set up physical barriers such as fences that are at least 1-2 feet into the ground
- Remove a snake's food supply such as rodents
- Remove a snake's cool, dark sheltered areas e.g. junk piles
- Mow close to the home
- Store firewood away from the house
- Remove weeds and brush
- Plug holes in the ground
- Contact a wildlife control operator to trap and remove any resident snakes
- Most wildlife experts do not recommend snake repellents such as mothballs, vapour barriers, ultrasonics, sulfur or poisons to keep snakes away, as they just don't work.
If you have further questions with respect to snake bites and pets of the Southern Highlands, please phone Mittagong Veterinary Hospital. If you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake, please phone our hospital first, so as we be ready for you or advise you. Please do not just 'turn up'. Time is of the essence, and sometimes we may be unavailable due to other case commitments such as surgery or some other reason where a vet may be away.
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Photo by David Clode on Unsplash