It’s Springtime and that means snakebite season for us at Gawler Animal Hospital! With the recent onset of warm weather, we’re suddenly seeing victims of snakebite in our dog and cat patients. As such, I’d like to give you a few tips regarding snakebite – what does it look like, when does it happen, what do you need to do?
1) Snakes are warm-blooded and so active in hot/warm weather
As reptiles, snakes are cold-blooded creatures and rely on environmental conditions to warm themselves. As such, they lie dormant throughout most of winter before coming back into action at the first signs of a warm, sunny day.
2) Brown snakes are extremely aggressive, if cornered, and highly venomous
Snakes will avoid us, if possible, and only become aggressive if cornered. When that happens, though, Brown snakes become very aggressive and will strike multiple times. They’re one of the two most venomous snakes in the world so being bitten by one is not a great idea! Although not as common around here, Red-bellied Blacks are also highly venomous and are a bit more common near a stream or wetland.
3) Both dogs and cats will chase or hunt snakes – they think it’s fun (at the time)!
Both dogs and cats are predators and cats, in particular, are very efficient hunters. When confronted with a snake, they’re very likely to go on the attack, and this is where problems occur. Hunting is an inbuilt characteristic in many breeds of dog and in most cats. For them, it’s fun and they don’t recognise the dangers in most cases.
4) Your pets don’t learn from the experience of being bitten so ‘once bitten, twice shy’ doesn’t apply!
The bite from a snake is not particularly painful at the time and the effects of the venom take some time to show. Unfortunately, your pet doesn’t learn that playing with a snake is a bad thing to do. As such, even a badly affected snakebite victim won’t learn from the process and is just as likely to be interested that next time he or she sees a snake.
5) Snake venom is a ‘neuro-toxin’ and so causes muscle paralysis
The venom is a potent neuro-toxin and can quickly result in respiratory and cardiac failure. If left untreated the venom is fatal
6) Weakness, collapse, paralysis and excess vocalization (in cats) are the main signs.
Pupils also tend to dilate in cats. Some dogs will have an initial collapse then appear to recover for a few minutes – don’t be fooled, this is usually the precursor to much more severe onset of signs.
7) Snakebite is a flat-out emergency!!
Although cats can take several hours to show clinical signs, dogs can die within half an hour of being bitten. Given the timing I’ve just described above, it’s probably pretty clear that snakebite is a flat out emergency. Even if you’re not sure whether there has actually been a bite, you need to get in to see us as soon as possible!! By all means, phone us on the way but don’t hang around on your way in here.
8) We can treat snakebite but you have to be quick, particularly with dogs
We have very good anti-venine to combat the effects of snake-bite. The key is timing and applying this before the toxin takes hold too badly. With appropriate treatment, recovery is rapid in dogs. In cats, things move a lot more slowly and we often need several days of hospital treatment. Not all snakebite victims survive, even with treatment, but our chances are much better with rapid action.
9) Avoidance is better than cure
Make sure you keep all long grass mown down in any areas your pets have easy access. Also don’t leave piles of wood or rubbish as this is frequently where snakes hang out. If you’ve already seen a snake in your yard, then it’s a great idea to call a snake-catcher (look up the web for your closest service). There are several ‘snake posts’ on the market and some people swear by them – they are designed to deter snakes by giving off a constant vibration in the ground. Not sure how well they work but worth looking into.
Now that the warm weather has arrived, you need to be really aware and on the lookout for signs of danger for your pets. If you think there’s any chance your pet has been bitten, give us a call on 8522 3500 and get them in to see us pronto. Better to be safe than sorry – don’t let your pet be a victim of snakebite season this year!!