Close to 6,500 pets are bitten by snakes each year in Australia and a venomous snake bite is a life-threatening emergency. Prevention is the best solution as snake bites can be fatal, even when presented to the hospital as soon as it occurs.
Safety in the home
Keep your yard clean and tidy! Keep your grass short, minimise piling up of bark and undergrowth, fill any holes in the yard or garden. Clean up spilled food, left over bird seed or dropped fruit. Store firewood, timber or metal scraps away from the house, if at all.
For cats, consider keeping them inside only or building a cat enclosure either outside or with access to outside.
Safety outside the home
Practice your obedience training, make sure they come back when you ask – taking treats on walks will help this. Keep you pet on a lead during walks to stop them from running off or going in long grass or other areas that snakes may be hiding.
- Even when dead, snakes can still have venom on the fangs that you or your pet could be poisoned by. If you have to handle the snake, always treat it with caution.
- Do not attempt to kill or capture a snake! Not only is this extremely dangerous to you, snakes are a protected species by law.
- Do not rely on snake protection devices especially snake repellents or vibration devices. Although some may seem like they work, snakes have been spotted or captured within their range and they are not fool proof.
- During a confrontation between a dog and a snake, do not distract your dog by calling it, rather try to physically remove it from the situation
- Always remain calm and keep your pet as calm as possible especially if bitten.
What happens if you think your pet has been bitten
If you suspect a snake bite, seek veterinary help immediately. As snake bites affect the blood, there are tests that a veterinarian can perform to see if they have been bitten before becoming unwell. Symptoms may occur within half an hour to two hours of a bite and not all pets that receive medical intervention will survive. Keep your pet as quiet as possible and do not waste time trying to look for a bite site or bandage an area.
Common Symptoms and Signs
Snake venom carries different toxins which can change depending on the type of snake and its individual profile. The venom can damage nervous system and organs, cause significant pain, stop the blood from clotting, and lead to paralyesis causing death. The common signs are:
- Weakness or severe lethargy or collapse
- Shaking or twitching
- Dilated pupils or difficulty blinking
- Loss of bladder/bowel control
- Blood in urine
- Breathing difficulties
- Excessive salivation
- Bleeding from snake bite wound
- Paralysis or Collapse
- Coma or death
- Swelling of the tissue around the bite site
Never try to capture a live snake or endanger yourself or others to identify what snake it is. Generally, the symptoms between snakes can vary and blood testing can be performed to assess which type of snake is most like to be involved.
To identify snakes properly the scales on face and tail are examined, which makes identification at a distance difficult. If the snake is obviously dead and you are wanting to bring it to the hospital for identification caution is still needed as venom can still be present on fangs of dead snakes.
Treatment of a snake bite
This is an emergency so do not waste any time alerting the veterinary hospital of the situation and coming in for treatment.
Firstly, your pet is examined and blood profiles are taken to assess clotting, organ function and confirming a snake bite. When confirmed treatment is started which includes anti-venom, fluid therapy, oxygen therapy and additional management of symptoms for example mild sedation for muscle tremors.
Anti-venom for a specific snake can be given or combined for multiple snakes if the type of snake is unknown. The anti-venom absorbs the circulating snake venom to stop the body from continuing to absorb it. Anti-venom does not have an effect on the venom that has already been absorbed and causing symptoms. Treatment is managing symptoms and giving supportive care until the body can function normally without assistance. In some cases, more that one vial is needed to absorb the circulating venom and in more severe cases, patients can lose consciousness and need to stay on oxygen with assisted breathing from minutes to hours.
Recovery from a bite
Prognosis can range from extremely guarded to good depending on the speed of treatment being started, the amount of venom injected, the location of the bite site and severity of symptoms.
Hospitalisation is required for at least a few days, depending on the symptoms that present. As some snakes cause muscle breakdown, fluid therapy is needed for longer to support organ function while the body is excreting the by-products of the muscle damage.
Treatment for a snake bite can range from $2000-$5000 depending on the symptoms and amount of supportive care needed. Pet insurance is a great idea as it helps with the financial burden of treatment. Always look into the insurance companies in detail as some may only cover the first snake bite!