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Stories from the surgery: why dog owners need to be aware of snake bites


Stories from the surgery: why dog owners need to be aware of snake bites
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Petplan vet Brian Faulkner has once again taken time out of his busy schedule to tell us about some of the strange, funny and sometimes difficult cases he encounters in his surgery.

This month, he tells us about a case of a dog receiving a snake bite.

A few weeks ago Archie, an eight-month cocker spaniel, was brought into my surgery after a walk along the banks of the local river. His owners informed me Archie had shot out of the undergrowth and run back to them in distress and limping slightly.

On examination, Archie had a swollen left paw with two small puncture wounds visible on the side of the paw. My suspicion was that Archie had been bitten by an adder.

Although adder bites are rare, here’s what you need to know about them, why they might have bitten your dog and how to treat them…

About adders

Adders are the only venomous snakes in Britain. Despite having the most developed venom injecting mechanism of all snakes, they only attack as a form of self-defence. However, their venom is rarely strong enough to cause fatalities.

Adults are about 50-60cm long and are marked with a zigzag pattern and an inverted V shape on the neck. Females have a pale brown colouring, with dark brown markings, while males are white or grey with black markings. They are a protected species under the Wildlife and Countryside Act of 1981.

Adders are usually found in the South and South West of England, Scotland, and West Wales. Their habitats include rocky hillsides, woodland edges and sand dunes and sightings are most frequent between April and July due to hibernation ending in early spring.

What are the symptoms of an adder bite?

Younger dogs are more likely to receive a bite due to their curiosity which may accidentally disturb the snake.

Because of this, bites are common to the legs or face. Symptoms of an adder bite include:

  • Severe pain
  • Swelling and bruising
  • Bleeding
  • Increased heart rate
  • Pain
  • Lethargy
  • Collapse (in severe cases)

How is an adder bite treated?

If you suspect your dog has been bitten, seek veterinary care immediately. Once your dog is in care, your vet will provide pain relief and insert a drip which will help maintain your dog’s blood pressure, treat the shock and support blood circulation. Depending on the time since the bite, your vet may decide to use anti-venom. Cage rest is often recommended to prevent the spread of venom around the body.

In Archie’s case, he was put on a drip and since we were pretty confident Archie had been bitten by an adder, we decided to administer anti-venom as well as an anti-inflammatory steroid to help control the inflammatory response as well as reduce the inflammation.

If a patient isn’t recovering as expected, then blood tests can be run to look for complications such as organ damage.

As with 99% of dogs who are bitten by adders, Archie made a full recovery and still enjoys his walks along the river – and although he’s no less curious than he was before, his owners are more alert to the possibility of what may be lurking in the undergrowth at this time of year.

Have you ever encountered an adder or has you dog suffered from a snake bite? Let us know about your experiences below…


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