Snake bites and your dog

Australian Eastern Brown Snake

Australian Eastern Brown Snake, the second most venomous snake in the world. The Australian Inland Taipan is the most venomous snake in the world.

One of the biggest fears that dog lovers have in Australia’s summer is snake bite, from some of the most venomous snakes in the world. The outcome of a snake bite for any dog involves many factors; no two cases are the same. How dog owners handle a snake bite plays a vital role in that outcome.

The following information is intended to help pet owners handle the situation, if it ever happens to their pet, we hope it never does.

Firstly, snakes would prefer to avoid biting your dog, most bites occur when the snake is defending itself. They produce venom for prey as food, not the family dog.

If your dog has been playing with a snake or has killed a snake, then there’s a fairly good chance it has been bitten.

What to do

  • The first thing you must do is immobilise the dog. Carry it to the car, or bring the car to the dog.
  • When approaching the dog, make sure it is safe to do so, as you may be bitten too.
  • Try not to panic (I know, easier said than done), it is important that the dog is kept as quiet as possible and does not walk or run as this will increase the speed of envenomation.
  • The dog needs to see a vet immediately, it is better to go straight to a vet, than to wait to see what happens, this could cost the pet its life.
  • Do not try to capture or kill the snake, but do try to identify it to tell the vet what sort of snake it is.
  • If the snake is dead take it to the vet with you, BUT, secure it in a bag, just in case it isn’t dead.
  • If the bite is obvious applying first aid like ice, cold packs, washing it with water or alcohol, trying to suck out venom or bleeding them, should not be done in place of veterinary treatment, you are wasting precious time and greatly increasing the risk of death.
  • Most bites occur on the face, head, in the mouth, or limbs. Don’t waste time looking for the bite, you probably won’t find it.
  • Tourniquets should never be used
  • Signs of envenomation is variable, with dogs commonly showing pre-paralytic signs soon after a bite, including:
    • Stumbling, or collapse
    • Salivation
    • Vomiting
    • Lethargy

NOTE: pre-paralytic signs are often followed by what appears to be spontaneous recovery.

Pre-paralytic signs usually mean the dog has received a deadly dose of venom. People often think that the dog will be ok… it really needs to get to a vet ASAP. If the dog doesn’t go straight to a vet, it will get worse.

Some of the signs seen include:

  • Hind leg weakness, staggering, lack of coordination and eventual paralysis
  • Pupils dilate and do not respond to light
  • Shaking
  • Twitching of muscles
  • Vomiting
  • Defaecation
  • Bloody urine
  • Cyanosis (blue gums)
  • Eventual death

The sooner the dog receives veterinary care and treatment with anti-venom, the better the outcome.

Prevention is better than cure with snake bite, keep the grass short and remove rubbish piles in the yard. When out and about, keep dogs with you.