Maisie survives her snake-bite scare! When Sue Agar realized that her Labrador, Maisie, had killed a large Brown snake in the garden, she called us straight away. On advice from the reception staff, Sue jumped in the car and brought her straight in.
Although Maisie wasn’t showing any clinical signs, a quick blood test showed that she had been bitten. At the same time that the blood test results came through, Maisie suddenly crashed. She collapsed and went into respiratory distress. Her blood pressure dropped dramatically and she came perilously close to dying.
With quick thinking and rapid treatment response from Dr Jenny and the nursing crew, however, Maisie lived to fight another day! Snake-bite is a flat-out emergency in dogs. Treatment involves maintaining adequate blood circulation and countering the neuro-toxic effects of the venom.
Maisie was started on intravenous fluids and oxygen supplementation. Anti-venom was administered over the next 30 minutes by intravenous injection. Often one vial of anti-venom is sufficient but, in Maisie’s case, we didn’t see an adequate response. Repeat blood tests confirmed that she needed a second vial of anti-venom. After this second dose, she finally started to improve and showed signs of recovery.
She wasn’t completely out of the woods, though, and so we sent her to an after-hours facility for monitoring. She showed steady progress and made a full recovery overnight. When Sue picked her up the following morning, Maisie was a much happier dog, as her photo shows!
With the recent onset of warm weather, we’re suddenly seeing a rush of victims of snakebite in our dog and cat patients. Over the last three or four weeks, we’ve seen at least one snake-bite case a day, on average. 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 usually 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.
- 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.
- 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. This is exactly what happened with Maisie!
- 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.
- We can treat snakebite but you have to be quick, particularly with dogs
We have very good anti-venom to combat the effects of snake-bite. The key is timing and applying this before the toxin takes hold too badly is ideal. With appropriate treatment, recovery is rapid in dogs. In cats, things can move a lot more slowly (not always) 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.
- A simple blood test tells us if your dog has been bitten
It can take a while for the clinical effects of snake-bite to develop. Prior to this, however, snake venom usually causes changes in the clotting mechanism in dogs. We can test this to detect whether your dog has any venom in the system. The test only takes a few minutes to run and, if elevated, we’ll always recommend immediate treatment. Unfortunately, this test doesn’t help us with cats as they react differently.
- 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.
Maisie was lucky that Sue, her owner, acted so quickly. Not all of our patients are so lucky, sadly. 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 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!!