Snakes are prevalent in the warmer months (typically October until April). They are frequently seen in areas near a fresh water source such as a creek or dam. The most common snakes in Victoria and South Australia are tiger, brown, black, red-bellied black and copperhead snakes. Locally, we see mainly tigers and a few browns and copperheads.
Most snakes will try to avoid you and your pets. However, while you may simply walk away when you encounter a snake, dogs and cats will often harass the snake and get bitten as a result. If your pet is bitten by a snake, seek veterinary attention immediately. It is better to see a vet and be checked out rather than wait and be sorry.
Identification of a snake can assist in appropriate treatment for your pet but it is not essential as the antivenen we carry is a polyvalent and covers all species of snakes. Do not attempt to kill or capture the snake; this is not only dangerous to you, but snakes are a protected species by law. If you have sighted a snake in your yard, contact your local council or snake catcher. They will safely remove and relocate the snake into an environment that will avoid putting pet’s lives in danger.
While out and about, stay on open paths. Keep your dog on leash and away from high grass, waterways and rocky outcrops where snakes like to bask. Do not let the dog explore holes or dig under rocks or logs. If you see a snake, leave it be. They will usually wander off as they are generally quite shy if they are not threatened and are given a wide berth. Snakes are not looking to interact with people or pets. Do not let your pet examine dead snakes as they still have active venom and can be mobile despite being dead, up until the body cools enough for rigour to set in.
To reduce the risk of snakes gathering on your property, keep your yard tidy by clearing undergrowth, filling holes in the ground, mowing the lawn, and clearing away toys and tools which make great hiding places for snakes. If you have pot plants ensure they are not full of water as snakes will often come in for a drink. Fish ponds are also an attractive place for snakes. If you are in a high prevalence area, you can dig fencing into the ground. Before considering snake netting, please ensure that the brand is safe to for the animal to be able to be retrieved (by a snake catcher), as some brands can do terrible damage to the snake resulting in them being euthanised. Keep walkways clear of brush, flowers and shrubs. Clean up any spilled food, fruit or bird seed, which can attract rodents, and therefore snakes. Store firewood away from the house.
Remain calm if your pet has been bitten by a snake. Keeping your pet as still as possible, carry your pet to the car if you can. Try to keep the bite site below the level of the heart. If your pet has been bitten on a lower limb, you may apply first aid using a light pressure bandage (as described for humans). Only do this if it does not significantly delay getting your pet to a vet. Treatment options such as cold packs, ice, tourniquets, alcohol, washing or bleeding the wound and trying to suck out venom should NOT be attempted in place of getting your pet to the vet – they just waste precious time and may do more harm. Note that snake bite wounds are rarely found in animals.
Do not wait and watch for signs. Do not be fooled by lack of immediate signs or signs of apparent recovery. In many cases, the animal starts salivating, collapses or vomits shortly after being bitten. The animal may appear to recover but then signs gradually get worse. Sudden deterioration is common.
- Pale gums, drooling
- Depression or anxious
- Dilated (enlarged) pupils
- Blood in urine or vomit
- Hind leg weakness, staggering gait, trembling
- Paralysis, unable to walk or hold its head up
- Breathing becomes rapid and shallow then increasingly difficult
- Respiratory paralysis and death
Diagnosis and treatment
If your pet is suspected as having been bitten, immediate supportive care consisting of intravenous fluids and oxygen/airway support will be required. A series of tests may be recommended if envenomation is suspected, including snake venom detection kit, blood clotting time, blood tests and urine tests. After positive identification the vet will administer anti-venom under close observation with your consent. One or more vials of anti-venom may be required to neutralise the snake venom in the blood stream. If your pet is critical and clinical signs are highly suggestive of envenomation we may not wait for any tests, and will immediately recommend the administration of anti-venene along with other required supportive treatments. Your pet will then be hospitalised for intensive monitoring and continue supportive care such as intravenous fluids and pain relief. Administration of anti-venene does not guarantee survival.
A venomous snake bite is a life-threatening emergency. Prognosis can range from extremely guarded to good depending on the speed of treatment being started and the amount of venom injected. Approximately 80% of pets survive a snake bite if treated quickly, so a prompt response is essential. Close to 6,500 pets are bitten by snakes each year in Australia (across all species of snakes). Approximately two thirds of these animals received antivenom. With antivenom treatment 91% of cats and 75% of dogs survived, whereas 66% of cats and only 31% of dogs survived without antivenom. Severely envenomated animals may still take weeks to return to full health, because of the widespread effects of the venom (particularly muscle damage). With prompt treatment many animals recover within 1-2 days, however hospital treatment may be as long as a week in severe cases with a further 2-3 weeks of rest at home to recuperate. If you elect to treat, be prepared for a substantial bill. A single vial and supportive care is likely to be around $1800-$2300, additional vials will see your costs increase. We may do a venom detection test after the first vial to see if there is any further circulating venom to identify if your pet need another vial. Our most expensive patient was transferred to ICU and put on a ventilator, he was in hospital for a week and thankfully was insured. His bill ended up $15,000. We will not proceed with treatment without your consent. Euthanasia is also a reasonable treatment option where funds do not allow for the administration of anti-venene if required.
Your pet can be discharged from hospital once the urine is clear and is able to eat, drink and urinate without assistance. Please keep your pet quiet at home during recovery, confined rest is recommended for the next 1-2 weeks. If medications are dispensed, administer them to your pet according to the label. Encourage your pet to drink or offer wet food to increase fluid intake. Monitor urine output and colour daily if possible. Contact us if you notice the urine colour turns dark or if you have any other concerns. A revisit will be scheduled in 2 weeks after discharge for a blood test to monitor kidney enzymes level