Snakes and pets

Many of us have seen a snake or two over the years, but have you ever picked one up (we do NOT recommend you try this!) and counted the scales in the mid dorsal, anal, tail and upper and lower labial region or noted the presence of a loreal scale? If you haven’t examined a snake closely like this, it is very possible you have not identified the snake correctly.

Many species of snakes are similar in appearance and are extremely difficult to differentiate from one another visually. On the other hand, some species of snakes display high variations in appearance even within a particular species. For these reasons experts rely on scale patterns to make a positive identification.

Living With Snakes

Do Not Run. Do not annoy a snake! Snakes are by nature passive creatures. They have no interest in biting you or your pet. Studies of captive and wild snakes have shown snakes prefer to retreat or remain stationary if approached by a human, and will bite only if they feel threatened, usually after a display of aggression. No snake in Australia will chase you, but some are more defensive than others

Unfortunately dogs and cats may run at a snake and annoy it, which may result in the snake getting aggressive. Most pets are not bitten once but multiple times; brown snakes are very quick and can strike 12 times in two seconds!

If your dog has been bitten is important to bring your dog in to the vet as symptoms are variable and the onset time of clinical signs vary greatly. From onset of clinical signs to death can be as short as 30 minutes but can be longer. Signs vary greatly as there are typically 3 major groups of venom in Australian elapid snakes (neurotoxins, Coagulants (both anti and pro), myolytics and Haemolysins) these vary in potency and amount between the species and individuals.

Clinical Signs to look for are:

  • Sudden weakness followed by collapse
  • Wobbliness
  • Shaking or twitching of the muscles
  • Salivation
  • Dilated pupils not responding to light
  • Blood in urine

If you have seen an altercation between your pet and a snake, and your pet shows any sign of envenomation then it most likely has received a lethal dose and needs veterinary attention. If the snake is dead bring it as well for positive identification.

First aid for your pet
Keep your pet calm and confined, as increased muscle and heart activity will increase venom circulation around the body.
Ignore the bite wound. (The average fang length is about 3 mm — you probably won’t even find the bite marks)
Immobilise a limb if possible and doing so does not stress the dog. (Only useful if bitten low on the foot)
Ring your vet in advance
Bring the dog in to the vet hospital as soon as possible