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Snake bites – all you need to know

05 December 2016

Snake bites are something all pet parents hope never to have happen to their fur kid. But it’s always better to be prepared. While only 10% of South African snakes are venomous, most bites (for humans and animals) come from Puff Adders. Keep these tips in mind to handle any slithery situation and improve chances of a speedy recovery.

Feeling the heat

Snakes are very active during warm, summer weather – especially after a long and cold winter of fasting. Puff Adders, in particular, enjoy warm places and rely on camouflage for protection, so they won’t always move quickly when something approaches. Be careful when taking walks in long grass.

Looking for trouble

Dogs are most commonly bitten on the shoulder, head, and neck and often get venom sprayed into their eyes, which suggests they’re probing around where the snake is hidden, and not trying to run away. When exploring woody or rocky areas, stick to open paths and keep your dog on a lead so he doesn’t wander. Cats, on the other hand, often get bitten on the legs.

If your pet gets bitten, cover the wound with damp dressing to minimise swelling and discomfort before seeking professional help. To remove venom from the eyes, rinse with water by holding his head under a running tap before heading to the vet. 

Valuable do’s and don’ts

Keep him calm and quiet by speaking in a steady voice as you make your way to the vet – particularly if you’re in a remote area and have quite a distance to travel. Keeping your dog calm will also reduce the chances of an elevated heart rate, which allows venom to move more quickly through the bloodstream.

If you can identify the snake, tell your vet what type it is as this can assist in appropriate treatment – but do not try to catch or kill the snake. If the snake is dead, take it with you for identification. 

Do not wash the wound, use a tourniquet or try suck out the venom.

Head to the experts

As soon as you spot the bite wound (swelling or bite marks) or notice breathing difficulty, get urgent veterinary assistance. There’s a better chance of recovery if your pet is treated immediately – the rule of thumb with snake bites is the sooner treated the better. Recovery from a snake bite usually takes 24-48 hours if they receive prompt veterinary assistance, and the bite isn’t severe. Some emergency vets will also keep anti-venom for dogs.

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