Snakes alive

By Kellie Tickner, Orchard Hills Veterinary Hospital Administrator

Warmer weather awakens our native snakes as they seek out water and a food source. Over the past few weeks, we have seen a significant increase in the number of pets attending the hospital after ‘playing’ with a snake. 

Snakes are generally timid creatures and stay away from humans and pets. It is often our inquisitive pets that seek out snakes and tend to lead to problems. Dogs are generally at highest risk of being bitten but cats are also susceptible, especially those that like to hunt. 

In the Penrith area we tend to see two main types of venomous snakes; either red belly black snakes or brown snakes and both types of snake bites are potentially fatal. Both have been sighted in Glenmore Park area and along the Nepean River recently. 

The brown snake tends to cause more neurological symptoms such as collapse and difficulty breathing. The red belly black snake is more likely to cause haemolysis (breakdown of red blood cells). However, either snake can cause both symptoms with disastrous consequences if left untreated. 

If you suspect that your pet has been bitten by a snake, try to keep your pet calm and relaxed and seek veterinary treatment as soon as possible. The sooner your pet is seen by a vet, the higher the chances of a recovery. Snake venom can transfer onto our skin and can enter our blood stream, if the bite site is known do not touch the area. If a bite is suspected using gloves can avoid contact with venom.

Often dogs may collapse briefly after a snake bite, they may vomit, but then act completely normal again. Remember, pets can react in different ways. Symptoms can include:

• Dilated pupils
• Weakness in hind legs
• Trembling
• Drooling
• Pale gums
• Restlessness
• Difficulty breathing
• Vomiting
• Become unconscious

If you have seen a snake in the vicinity of your pet, and are unsure if they have been bitten, it is always better to take them to the vet for an assessment. If caught early, snake bites can be successfully treated. 

Identifying the snake can help with treatment and prognosis. If possible, taking a photo can be helpful, but never try to catch or kill a snake. Treatment involves the administration of an antivenom. Antivenom is very expensive and can mean treatment for snake bite is costly. There are combination antivenoms that can be given if the snake species is not known. Other medications and stabilization with IV fluids is also required. Complications including kidney failure and immune mediated disease can occur after a snake bite and animals can die despite treatment.

If you suspect that your pet has been ‘playing’ with a snake, seek veterinary attention immediately. For more information, contact the team at Orchard Hills Veterinary Hospital on 4736 2027.