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Snake Bites

Knowledgebase

Snake Bites

Encounters with snakes can be a common sight in many areas around the Geelong Region, especially during the warmer months.
Australia is home to some of the most dangerous and venomous snakes in the world including the Tiger snake, Brown snake, Black snake and Copperhead snake.

Pets, in particular, are vulnerable to snake bites due to their curiosity and inclination to explore their surroundings. In the Geelong & Surfcoast region, snakes are most active from September through March, however it is possible for snake bites to occur at any time of year. Incidents of snake bites have been reported along the Barwon River and near water sources like wetlands and shrubbed areas. Tiger snakes, in particular, are often found near water and may be seen sunning themselves on walking paths near the water’s edge. When Brown, Black, and Copperhead snake envenomations occur, they are more commonly reported in drier locations away from water sources.
Determining if a snake has bitten a pet and the amount of venom delivered depends on the type of snake species. Sometimes, a pet may experience a “dry bite,” where the snake bites but no venom is injected. In other cases, the snake may deliver enough venom to cause mild or severe symptoms within 15-30 minutes. 
If your dog is displaying any symptoms including vomiting, weakness, breathing problems or confusion,  especially after a walk on a warm, sunny day, it is important to seek urgent veterinary advice.
Cats can also be victims of snake bites, however their symptoms tend to present differently. Cats will exhibit weakness and lethargy up to 24 hours after envenomation.

You should not attempt to kill the snake, this endangers your own safety!

Identifying a Snake Bite

If you think your pet may have been bitten by a snake, it is important to keep them calm and seek immediate Veterinary attention. Identifying the bite wound location can be difficult, your pet may not display any reaction or obvious signs of pain from being bitten, the bite wound may also be concealed beneath the fur.
Symptoms you may notice include vomiting, weakness, shallow breathing, hypersalivation, muscle tremors, dilated pupils or red/orange coloured urine.

When a snake bite is suspected, Veterinarians will conduct a thorough clinical examination, looking for neurological, cardiovascular or respiratory symptoms. Based on how severe the symptoms are and how rapidly they are progressing the Vet may make a presumptive diagnosis.
Newtown Veterinary Clinic always has snake anti-venom available to ensure swift treatment for pets. Administering the snake anti-venom as quickly as possible is vital for maximising the chances of recovering from a snake bite. 

Diagnostic Testing

In general, different species of snakes have different chemicals in their venom. For example a Tiger snake envenomation can look very clinically different from a Brown snake envenomation. The types of toxins in snake venom can be separated into 4 categories – neurotoxin, haemotoxin, myotoxin, and cytotoxin.
If snake envenomation isn’t obvious on presentation, your pet may require diagnostic testing to confirm a snake bite and determine the most suitable anti-venom and treatment.

The most common diagnostic tests used to detect snake envenomation in pets are:
Blood Tests – There are 2 blood tests that Veterinarians can process to confirm a suspected snake bite 
– Testing the Coagulation System: This can show how severe the envenomation is. Many snake venoms interfere with blood clotting, leading to abnormal clotting times. 
– Testing Muscle Enzymes: Elevated muscle enzyme levels, especially with Tiger snake venom, can be seen after envenomation and help determine treatment duration.
Snake Venom Detection Kits (SVDK): These kits can detect tiny amounts of snake venom in blood or urine, providing a definitive answer and identifying the snake species.
Neurological Exam: Some snakes produce venom with high neurotoxin levels, affecting neuromuscular reflexes. This physical exam can assess the severity of envenomation and appropriate treatment.

Treating a Snake Bite

Early detection allows for the effective treatment of snake bites – roughly 80% of pets have a good chance of surviving if they receive swift treatment.
Treatment of a snake bite will require hospitalisation to receive snake anti-venom and fluids intravenously, the administration of anti-venom is to counteract the snake venom in the pet’s system. Some patients may require additional support and care, such as oxygen supplementation and multiple vials of anti-venom. In severe cases, if breathing is compromised, assisted breathing may be required. 
Recovery from a snake bite typically occurs within 24 to 48 hours if the pet promptly receives veterinary care, and providing the snake did not inject a large amount on venom. Some pets have an extended recovery period due to internal organ damage, necessitating intensive and prolonged nursing care.

It is important for pet owners to consider the cost of intensive hospitalisation and anti-venom, before making a decision about treating a pet affected by a snake bite. Veterinary teams can provide estimates of daily treatment costs and will understand that it is not affordable for every pet owner. As such, we recommend pet owners consider pet insurance and investigate how much a particular insurance policy will contribute towards a snake bite case. 

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