Snake bite is an unfortunate danger for pets living in Australia. In the Perth metropolitan area, the most common venomous snakes encountered are the Brown snake (also known as a Dugite, Pseudonaja affinis), the Tiger Snake (Notechis ater), and occasionally the Death Adder (Acanthophis antarcticus).
Though snakes are typically solitary animals that prefer not to make contact with potential threats, such as people and pets, the movement of humans and our animals into bush areas can result in unwanted contact with snakes. It is vitally important that humans do not attempt to catch or kill snakes in the yard, as this can not only result in danger for the human, but also unnecessary distress for the snake that unwittingly was discovered by your pet, and will cause unwanted delay in seeking treatment for your pet.
Keeping the yard free of debris and overgrown grasses, keeping dogs on the lead while out bush walking and keeping cats indoors can help to decrease the chances of your pet being bitten by a snake, but all owners should be aware of the signs go snake bite and be prepared for immediate action if envenomation is suspected.
The Dugites and Tiger snakes we regularly encounter in the Larkhill/Serpentine regions, as like all snakes, are more active during the warmer months of the year. We tend to find the months from September through to April/May the most likely when people(and dogs and cats!) will encounter either in the bush, amongst the sand dunes or regularly in their own backyards. Unfortunately this also corresponds with our busiest times for treating snake bite. Due to the extremely inquisitive nature of dogs and cats to investigate, wriggly, slithering animals in the undergrowth, it is not uncommon for the hospital to treat over 4-5 cases of snake bite a week and we have had days where 3 or more snake bite cases have been presented.
Additional information about venomous Australian animals can be found at www.avru.org
Immediately after receiving a snake bite, pets may display a variety of signs, often beginning with pain and distress, and developing further signs, such as:
- Dilated pupils, which do not react to light by becoming smaller
- Increased respiration (breathing) rate or difficulty breathing
- Stumbling/ staggering/ in coordination (ataxia)
- Paralysis/ paresis/ weakness
- Dribbling urine or Blood in Urine
Occasionally, pets will collapse then appear to recover, only to begin showing signs of envenomation thirty minutes or so after the initial collapse. Some cats may also return showing a mixture of signs. In all cases, your pet should be taken to your nearest veterinarian, or after hours, to an available emergency centre as soon as possible - the longer you wait, the less likely it is that treatment will be successful.
If you suspect that your pet may have been bitten by a snake, it is important to seek veterinary attention as quickly as possible. Often the signs of envenomation are subtle, and a bite wound will not be readily apparent. The veterinarian will examine your pet and consult with you regarding its history and lifestyle, and any signs you have noted. Additionally, blood tests may be performed to assess the level of muscle and organ damage the venom may have caused. A Snake Venom Detection Kit can also be used to test urine or blood for the presence of venom and to identify the species of snake involved.
The sooner your pet commences treatment for snake envenomation, the more likely your pet will successfully recover. The cornerstone of treatment is antivenene, a special protein (antibody) produced by filtering the blood of horses which have been treated over time with small doses of snake venom. These proteins are purified and preserved into bottles of known dosage. Depending on the amount of venom your pet received, as well as the time that has elapsed since your pet was bitten, one or more vials of antivenin may be required to reverse the effects of the venom. Your pet will be hospitalized for treatment, and will also receive supportive care, such as intravenous fluids to treat for shock, anti inflammatories, anti histamines or pain medications. In very severe cases, the weakness caused by envenomation can inhibit the pet's ability to breathe, a ventilator may be required to assist respiration. Where a pet's signs are very severe, referral to an intensive care may be required.
Following treatment for snake envenomation, your pet may require follow up blood tests to monitor their ongoing recovery, as muscle and organ damage are not uncommon after effects of the venom. Your vet will advise you as to what measures will be required in your pet's case
It is important to consider the financial implications of snake envenomation and be prepared in advance.Due to level of intensive care usually required, and the primary cost of anti venene,treatment can be expensive. Having an emergency fund set aside for your pet, as well as coverage from pet insurance, can help to ensure you are prepared for any eventuality.