Information for this page is taken from a number of sources including the RSPCA and individual veterinary web pages. It provides some basic information that could save the life of your pet.
In a Nutshell…
Keep your pet still – carry it to your car if possible.
Go directly to the nearest veterinary clinic, even if your pet is not showing any obvious symptoms. The vet can test for envenomation.
Prognosis is good with timely antivenom treatment.
Do not wait for symptoms to appear.
Do not apply a tourniquet, interfere with the bite site (including sucking or cutting the wound), or apply ice or cold packs.
Do not attempt to capture or kill the snake. A photo or description will help. First responders are often bitten while attempting to capture the snake, adding to the problem rather than helping. Blood and urine testing will determine if snake venom has been injected and the species of snake responsible.
good background information
Not all snakes are venomous and not all venomous snakes release venom when they bite. However, unless you are sure of the species of snake that has bitten your pet, treat the bite as potentially life threatening.
Dangerously venomous snakes in the Tweed region have relatively small fangs. It is highly likely that the venom has been injected just below the skin into the lymphatic system. By applying pressure to the site and keeping muscle movement to a minimum, the transfer of the venom through the lymphatic system to the blood system can be delayed. The faster your pet is taken to a vet and antivenom administered, the greater the chance of survival. Approximately 80% of pets survive snake bite if treated quickly. The survival rate is much lower however for pets that are left untreated, and death can occur.
Symptoms and the rate of onset will vary depending on a range of variables including the species and size of snake, whether venom was released, the size and type of pet, and your actions in keeping the pet still following the bite. Symptoms may present quickly or take up to an hour or more to appear. Depending on the species of snake, the venom may affect one or all of the nervous system, muscle system or blood system. Common symptoms include:
Sudden weakness followed by collapse (it is fairly common for the animal to recover quickly from the collapse and run around, but this does not mean the animal is okay)
Shaking or twitching of the muscles and difficulty blinking
Loss of bladder and bowel control
Blood in urine
The vet can conduct blood and urine testing to determine if snake venom has been injected and the species of snake responsible. Treatment varies with each individual case and usually consists of intravenous fluids and the administration of antivenom.
Other supportive care may also be required - including oxygen supplementation and even artificial respiration. This needs to continue until the circulating antivenom has been neutralised and any bound venom has worn off.
Snake antivenoms are expensive to produce and have limited shelf life; these factors are reflected in their high costs. Depending on the amount of venom injected, administration of more than one vial of antivenom may be necessary. Antivenom is not a vaccination or a preventative medication.
If you live or exercise your dog in an area where the risk of snakebite is high, consider pet insurance.
minimising the risk
Australia’s venomous snakes will not hunt your pet, but will react defensively if your pet attacks them or they perceive they are under attack. People wishing to provide a safe home environment for their pets should follow the same principles as those wishing to keep their children safe.
Keep the grass cut short around your home and remove anything lying around that snakes could hide under. If you have bird aviaries or chicken coops, clean up spilled food or birdseed. Snakes are often present near a home hunting rats and mice.
With the majority of dogs being bitten away from the home, it is vital to exercise discretion when it comes to walks. Keep dogs on a lead to prevent them pushing their nose into holes that might be a hiding place for a snake. Statistically, working dogs and Terriers make up the bulk of snakebite victims.
Snakes are most active in the Tweed from September on-wards as the weather heats up and the race is on to feed and breed. Because of the temperate climate, snakes can still be encountered in the cooler winter months.