Snake Bite

Snake bite and your pet

Armed with curiosity and natural hunting instincts it is not uncommon for our favourite four legged friends to cross paths with a snake. As snakes hibernate or are inactive during cold weather, snake bites usually occur in the summer months. Australia has a large number of venomous snakes but the brown snake account for the majority of snake bites in domestic pets around Mackay and Walkerston District.

First Aid

If you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake you should immobilise your pet and try to keep him/her as quiet as possible. It is vital that you take your pet to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. The sooner your pet is treated, the better their chances of survival.

Do not put you or others at risk by attempting to identify the snake. Individual species of snake can vary in colour and pattern considerably and are all but impossible to definitively identify other than by experienced snake handlers.

Signs of Snake bite

Several factors will determine what sort of reaction your pet has to a snake bite. The type of snake (some species of snake are more venomous than others), the amount of venom injected (depends of the size and maturity of the snake) and the site of the snake bite are all contributing factors.

Dogs and cats are most often bitten around the head and limbs. Usually the closer the bite is to the heart the quicker the venom will be absorbed into the pet’s system and distributed around the body.

The signs of snake bite by a tiger or brown snake are varied. They may show some or all of the following signs:

  • Sudden weakness followed by collapse.
  • Shaking or twitching of the muscles.
  • Vomiting.
  • Dilated pupils not responsive to light.
  • Blood in the urine.
  • In the later stages paralysis of the limbs and body.

Veterinary Treatment

Firstly our veterinarian will examine your pet, assess the clinical sign they are showing and determine the best course of action. Further diagnostic tests may be required to determine if your pet has actually been bitten. Veterinary treatment varies with each individual case, how severe the symptoms are and how rapidly the symptoms progress. Treatment usually consists of intravenous fluids and the administration of antivenom to neutralise the snake venom in the pet's body. Some patients require multiple vials of antivenom.

Other supportive care may also be required - including oxygen supplementation and even breathing for the pet if they are not breathing well on their own. This needs to continue until the circulating antivenom has been neutralised and any bound venom has worn off.

If your pet is given antivenene for a snakebite, it is only being used to neutralise the snake venom in your pet's system at that time. It does not protect your pet in future from further envenomation from a snake. Antivenene is not a vaccination or a preventative medication.

Recovery

Approximately 80% of pets survive snake bite if treated quickly. The survival rate is much lower however for pets that are left untreated, and death can occur.

Recovery from a snake bite usually takes 24 to 48 hours if the pet receives prompt veterinary attention and the snake bite is not severe. However, some pets will take substantially longer to make a full recovery due to tissue damage to internal organs and will require intensive and prolonged nursing care.

Antivenom

Antivenom is produced by gradually immunizing horses to the venom of a species of snake. The horse’s blood is then collected and the serum is separated and purified to make antivenom, containing specific antibodies to the toxins in the snake venom.

Snake antivenoms are expensive to produce and have limited shelf life; these factors are reflected in their high costs.

Precautions

  • When exercising dogs, particularly during the warmer months of the year, use a leash
  • If you live in the outer suburbs or semi-rural areas, keep your backyard clear of long grass, and remove any piles of rubbish. This will help to reduce the number of hiding spots for snakes to reside in.

What to do if you find a snake

There are a number of volunteer reptile removers in Mackay ad surrounding areas. The snake catchers are independent volunteers who provide a safety-related service for the public and a welfare-related service for native fauna. Contact us on 4959 2099 or 4951 3799 to assist you in getting in contact with a snake catcher.