Try to stay calm. Always carry a mobile phone when walking your dog so that if something happens, you can summon a car quickly. If you encounter a dead snake on a path, do not let your dog investigate it or “worry” it. The fangs still contain venom in a dead snake.
The venom is moved from the bite sight through the blood stream so keeping your dog as still as possible is important. Try to keep the bite site below the level of the heart and do not waste time trying to suck out venom or using ice packs to slow blood flow to the area. Ring ahead to your veterinarian to ensure they hold a stock of antivenene.
Different snake venom can cause different clinical signs and the time to develop the signs can vary a lot too. Usually signs are seen within 30 minutes to an hour of being bitten, but with cats sometimes the signs are delayed for up to 24 hours. We had a feline patient recently who came home late at night “looking a bit off colour” and went to bed. By morning she was collapsed with all the classic snake toxicity signs, unable to stand and difficulty breathing. She did recover after a week in hospital and vials of antivenene and intensive nursing.
The common signs are drooling and vomiting followed shortly thereafter with full collapse. The pupils will dilate as a common early sign and staggering or weakness in the hindlegs follows. A variety of signs such as trembling, depression, blood in urine or blood in vomit with pale gums can occur.
Breathing then becomes rapid and shallow, and eventually the hindleg wobbliness becomes complete paralysis. Coma and death will happen if treatment not sought. Sometimes after the patient vomits they can appear to look better for about 15-30 minutes, then deteriorate rapidly. Our advice is that if you are walking your dog off lead and suddenly there is trembling, dribbling and vomiting then seek help urgently.
To help keep your yard snake free please note the following points:
- Dig your fence a foot into the ground where possible
- Keep your yard tidy by clearing undergrowth and keeping grass short and tidy
- Do not leave holes in the ground, fill them in and keep paths cleared
- Do not have any pipes or drums or containers which would make a good snake hiding place.
- Do not have any food lying around for birds and clean up any spilled food. Spilt bird seed means rodents will be likely, and here there are rats and mice, snakes will be attracted to that area
- Store firewood away from the house and fence off any wood piles from your dog and cat