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Snake Envenomation

Snake Envenomation

in Pet Care Tips , Emergency Medicine

As we move towards summer and the weather begins to warm up, snake activity also increases, and snakes become quite prevalent within the environment. This is particularly evident in the northern suburbs, where much of suburbia is surrounded by bushland, rivers and creeks and open park land. Most of the time snakes are far more interested in avoiding interactions with larger beings such as humans and pets, however if they feel threatened they certainly will become aggressive in an attempt to defend themselves.

Encounters between cats and dogs and snakes are quite common, as cats and dogs are innately inquisitive creatures and will seek to investigate and often try and catch a snake, and being bitten is a common consequence.
So it is very important to try and recognize the signs of snake bite as early as possible, in order to try and instigate treatment as soon as possible to maximize the chance for a positive outcome.

The first, and most important piece of advice to give, is that if you suspect your pet may have been bitten by a snake for whatever reason, seek veterinary attention immediately. Take your pet to the nearest veterinary clinic in the area. Do not wait to see if the signs progress, because half an hour can make the difference between a full recovery and a potentially fatal outcome. The best-case scenario is a trip to the vet with a false alarm at the end, if it turns out your pet hasn’t been bitten.

What are the signs to look out for in the instance of a snake bite?

Shortly after being bitten by a snake, cats and dogs will often vomit as a result of the toxins that have been injected into the blood. They will often become wobbly on their legs, and can sometimes collapse and not be able to walk at all. Often owners describe them as looking as though they are drunk. These are the initial signs of a snake bite.

BUT, after these initial signs, animals can appear to be getting better, as the vomiting stops and the wobbliness improves. However, it is important not to take this as a sign that everything is fine. This temporary state of improvement is quite common, and it does not persist. Shortly after this period, animals can start to deteriorate very quickly. The most noticeable signs being an animal who is struggling to breath, unable to walk and gone ‘floppy’, and having very dilated pupils that do not constrict when a light is shone into them. These signs are a result of the snake’s neurotoxin causing paralysis, and these can progress to complete respiratory arrest and death within a short period of time.

How do we confirm that an animal has been bitten by a snake?

Once your pet has arrived at the vet clinic there are a few ways that we can help determine whether or not they have been bitten. Sometimes the signs that they are showing make the diagnosis very obvious and treatment is initiated immediately. Other times, when the signs may be in the early stages, there are a few tests (blood and urine) that can be performed to help us identify a snake bite victim. It is NOT common to find the actual bite site in animals, although sometimes it can be seen if they animal has been bitten on the face. If a positive diagnosis is confirmed then treatment is started immediately.

What is the treatment for a snake bite?

The main treatment for a snake envenomation is anti-venom. In Victoria the anti-venom which is used is Tiger-Brown snake combined. This anti venom treats both tiger and brown snake envenomation (the 2 most common snakes in this area), but also covers most of the other snakes that occur in Victoria. This means that it is not important to identify the type of snake that has bitten your pet, as the anti-venom will cover whatever bite it is. So NEVER place yourself in danger by trying to catch the snake and bring it into the vet clinic, as this is not necessary. If you are concerned about a snake living around your house, it is best to call a local snake catcher, who is a trained professional who can come and remove the snake for you.

Anti-venom comes in singular vials, and the total number of vials required to treat a snake bite victim varies based upon the severity of the signs shown by the patient. The more severe the signs then the more anti-venom that is required. If animals are in respiratory failure they can require mechanical ventilation as well as the anti-venom takes time to reduce the toxins affects. The length of time animals can require ventilation for varies, but is usually between 12-24 hours.

Severe cases will require an extended stay in hospital as their muscles and nerves recover from the effects of the toxin, and there is often significant nursing care involved in getting these animals back to their healthy self. However, cases that are treated rapidly and aggressively can sometimes be out of hospital within 48 hours. This outlines the importance of early detection and treatment!

What is the prognosis for my pet if they have been bitten by a snake?

If left untreated snake bites almost always result in death of the animal. However if treatment is instigated early in the course of the envenomation the prognosis is quite favourable. As time since the bite increases and signs progress, then the prognosis worsens. However in the recent summer (2015/2016), out of approximately 70 snake bites that we treated here at Bundoora Vet Clinic, we were able to save approximately 87% of cases.

So the most important message is if you suspect your pet may have been bitten by a snake, then have them seen immediately.

How to try and avoid your pet being bitten by a snake?

As we all know, sometimes in life some things are unavoidable, and as long as there are snakes around, there will be snake bites. However there are some ways that can try to prevent your pet from becoming the victim:

  • Never let your dog run off lead out of site in long grass and parks in the summer months. Always keep them on lead
  • Try and avoid creeks and rivers during the hot months, especially where there are lots of rocks, long grass and other hiding places for snakes
  • Try and reduce long grass and overgrown vegetation in your backyard. These are perfect places for snakes to hide
  • Consider building a cat enclosure outside for your cats where they can spend time outside in the backyard during the day, without being at risk of meeting a snake
  • If you have a snake around the house, contact a local snake catcher to have the snake removed safely from the area. Don’t try and attempt this yourself
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