Snake bites are a common problem in Australia, particularly in our area from September to April. There are over 25 venomous snakes in Australia. In our area we have tiger snakes, brown snakes, death adders, red-bellied black snakes, golden crown and green tree snakes. We also have a lot of non-venomous snakes.
Do not put yourself at risk by trying to pick up a snake; we do not need to know what type of snake it is to treat your pet. Snakes sometimes play dead to stop your dog from biting. The best thing to do, if you see a snake, is make sure all your family including your pets go inside and most snakes will move away if left alone.
Signs of snake bite:
The signs are very variable as there are many types of snakes and their venoms differ.
The big risk is when you think your dog may not have been bitten and don’t get veterinary care. Initially your dog may collapse, salivate, have muscle tremors and then within a few minutes they appear to be completely back to normal. This apparent recovery often tricks people into thinking their dog just got a fright and didn’t get bitten. It actually indicates a lethal envenomation has occurred. This pet needs antivenom to have a good chance of recovery and should get to the vet ASAP. After the initial episode, your pet may appear normal for up to 24hours then deteriorate. The signs to look for are:
- Dilated pupils (2 to 6 hours after a bite)
- Bleeding problems: may be blood in eye (anterior chamber, conjunctiva or sclera) or coughing and/or vomiting up blood, blood in urine or faeces.
- Salivation, vomiting, decreased gag or swallow reflex, nausea.
- Weakness in hind limbs (progresses to forelimbs), muscle damage or muscle stiffness , tremours or shakes
- Decreased reflexes
- Tongue paresis, pharyngeal paralysis and or vocal cord paralysis so unable to bark, meow, swallow and drool
- Respiratory distress, with panting and cyanosis (mucous membranes purple rather than pink)
- Urine may change colour
- Kidney failure
Signs of snake bite are very similar to tick paralysis, so your vet needs to work out which problem your pet has.
If you suspect your pet has bitten by a snake, you need to get your pet to the vet ASAP. Your vet will examine your pet. It is very unlikely they will find any sign of the bite wound. They look for bleeding problems, neurological signs, changes in the eyes, breathing problems etc.
If there are any suspicious signs, the next step is to collect some blood for testing. The cost of the tests can be high, so it is best to discuss this with your vet. Sometimes people prefer to spend money on treatment rather than on tests, so only basic blood clotting tests are done. [Costs of using the snake venom detection kit and all recommended blood and urine tests can be up to $850- for tests and for treatment expect up to another $1000- more if more than 1 vial of antivenom is needed]. Please discuss costs with your vet before proceeding with treatment, if you know your pet has been bitten then you may prefer to save by not having venom detection test done. If you can’t afford antivenom, then we can still save some pets with iv fluids and drugs – but this is risky.
An intravenous catheter is inserted and intravenous dugs started. Drugs are given before the antivenom to reduce the risk to the patient, including antihistamine and adrenaline. Antivenom is given slowly in the drip. The first fe w hours (up to 12 hours) of treatment are critical, the patient may need airway management, breathing assistance, circulatory support, pain relief, and meds to stop vomiting and prevent pneumonia and treat neuropathy. Your pet will need to be monitored closely in hospital. We can save 75 to 91% of patients with antivenom. But prompt treatment makes the difference.
Snake venom is very complex. It contains factors that affect blood clotting, nerve transmissions and muscle damage. There is also a risk of kidney damage and circulatory collapse.
After the acute care needed for snake bite treatment, it is wise to have follow up blood tests to check blood clotting and kidney functions. The bite wound may be apparent as bruised and sore several days after the bite and can sometimes get infected so should be checked each day for the next week.