Snakebites are common in South Africa and many dogs are bitten because they will attack a snake. Most dogs don’t understand that snakes can be deadly and will either attack a snake or at the very least try to sniff it or poke their nose down its hole. Snakes strike defensively so if you keep your dog on a lead while walking along trails or in the mountains, and keep a look out, you and your dog should be fine. Cats are less like to get bitten because they are smart enough to avoid big snakes and kill small snakes quickly.
Snakebites: symptoms to watch out for
It’s not always easy a visible wound if your dog has been bitten so look out for:
• Rapid (or shallow) breathing
• Dilated pupils
• Pale gums
• Collapse, and in the later stages, paralysis
Snakebites: what to do if your pet is bitten
Most snakebites on animals are not that serious and they do survive. However, it is essential that if your pet is bitten by a snake you immediately contact your vet. It is best not to waste any time; do not try home remedies. Get your pet to your vet as soon as you can.
• If your pet is bitten by a highly venomous snake such as a puff adder, Cape cobra or black mamba try to keep your pet calm and get to the vet as soon as you can. It is helpful to call ahead and warn the vet that you are coming and, if possible, identify the snake or send a photo of it.
• A bite from a snake with a neurotoxic venom like a mamba and some cobras may cause progressive weakness and difficulty with breathing, which is a life-threatening situation. Animals bitten by these snakes may die without assisted breathing and antivenom. In serious cases where anti-venom is administered successfully, the recovery period may vary from a few hours to more than a day or two.
• Bites from snakes with predominantly cytotoxic venom – such as adders and spitting cobras or the stiletto snakes – result in pain, swelling and blistering and this may lead to tissue damage. Small animals may suffer fluid and blood loss too. Where dogs are bitten in the face or throat, the swelling may inhibit breathing.
• In the case of venom in the yes, gently flush the eyes with water then rush your pet to the vet who will apply local anaesthetic and then treat with antibiotic drops or cream. In most instances, the eyes will recover fully within a few days.
What NOT to do in the event of a snake bite
• Try to suck out the poison
• Wash the wound
• Use a tourniquet
• Chase and kill the snake (you’re only putting yourself in danger)
• Force milk down the animal’s throat
• Feed your pet charcoal
• Give the animal Allergex tablets
• Cut the tip of the ear to let the animal ‘bleed out’
• Inject with petrol as it ‘neutralises’ snake venom
These are dangerous myths which do absolutely nothing to save the life of a pet bitten by a snake; in fact, they could cause even more harm and may even kill your pet.
Snakes are an essential part of our ecosystem and deserve our respect and protection. Rather than kill a snake you may encounter, call a snake expert to have it removed. The African Snakebite Institute may offer guidance. Call 082 494 2039. The ASI also holds excellent courses on snake identification and handling. Call them for more info or go to www.africansnakebiteinstitute.com.