Snake Bite First Aid for Pets

Eastern Brown Snake ready to strike.

Eastern Brown Snake ready to strike.

Colour is not your identification key - These are ALL Eastern Brown Snakes.

Colour is not your identification key – These are ALL Eastern Brown Snakes.

Snake season is upon us – just ask Alfie! (Check out his survival story also in this edition – see page 29).  Most clients around the Moreton Bay region have reported seeing snakes in their backyards, even noticing big snakes in small suburban backyards, which is a first for many.  Those folks on properties that are typically breeding grounds for snakes around this time each year, have been telling us that paddocks are over run with snakes and are encroaching on house yards like never before.

Similarly our snake bite emergency cases at the Old Mill Animal Hospital have sky rocketed this year, with varying outcomes for the pets depending on the timing of the treatment.

The most common patient we see is the small terrier-type dog who has taken on an Eastern Brown Snake.  That instinctive desire to track down and kill things wiggling in the grass on their territory often lands such pooches in hot water, or more specifically, in our Intensive Care Unit.  Whilst these are our typical patients, we also see our fair share of cats and kittens, as well as large breed dogs who have taken on the scaly intruders.

There is one main reason that pets die from snake bites and that is all to do with the timing of veterinary attention.  Unlike paralysis tick symptoms, which get progressively and obviously worse in your pet, a snake bite can throw different symptoms in different pets, at different stages.  The extent of damage to your pet depends on the type of snake, how much venom is injected, and even the site of envenomation.

Typically when bitten by a venomous snake, the pet will yelp, collapse, vomit, perhaps seizure or soil themselves, or even appear dead.  This is an anaphylactic reaction to the venom and can be a sign that they have received a lethal dosage. Then after a few minutes the pet may appear to ‘get over’ the bite.  They might stand steadily, wag their tail, interact with you quite normally or even have a drink or something to eat. This stage is the reason that many pets die – owners will assume the pet is better, or was not actually bitten by the snake, and will cancel the vet appointment or leave the pet unattended.  The pet will then relapse and go downhill quickly.  Once a pet is bleeding out of their eyes, ears and gums, there is very little we can do to help you save your pet.

Snake venom is host to a range of toxins which damage tissue and interfere with the correct functioning of your pet’s body, including the clotting of their blood.  We save pets by first giving a strong steroid to help the body deal with the massive shock, then giving anti-venom made specifically for the type of snake your pet has been bitten by.

If you know or suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake, check you are not placing yourself in danger and remove your pet from the area.  Wrap them in a blanket or towel and ring ahead to the Old Mill Animal Hospital to let us know you are coming in with a possible snake bite.  If you can see the snake and it is safe to do so from a distance, take photos of the snake on your phone, focusing on the head and any markings that may help us to identify it.  Do not ever attempt to pick up a snake, even if it looks dead or wounded.

There is generally no point looking for a bite wound to assess whether your pet needs veterinary attention or not – the fangs are so tiny and pets are so hairy that we very seldom actually find the bite site.  The vet may perform a snake venom detection test on a urine or blood sample if you are unsure if the pet has been bitten and if the clinical symptoms are not obvious.

Treatment for snake bites is expensive because of the constant, intensive care required and the high cost of antivenin.  Generally, treatment for a positively-identified venomous snake bite will cost around $2500 for the first 24 hours.  Pet insurance is perfect for this occasion, so you can say ‘yes’ to saving your family pet without dreading how you will fit that expense into the household budget for the next 6 months.

Of course the perfect scenario would be to never have venomous snakes visit your yard!  You can reduce the risk by keeping your yard tidy and free from good hiding places, such as timber piles, sheets of iron, overgrown vegetation and rock walls with lots of gaps.

If you suspect your pet has been bitten by a venomous snake, call the 24 hour Old Mill Animal Hospital line on 3425 2222.

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