Many thanks to the Victorian BC Club for this article
is the time of year where snakes are on the move and are at
their most aggressive. If a snake bites your dog the
treatment you give on the way to the vet could be the
difference between life and death.
Snakes, Tiger Snakes and Black Snakes are the most important
venomous snakes, so watch for the following symptoms. If
you think your dog has been bitten, seek prompt attention
from your vet. Your local veterinary surgeon should be
aware of the types of snakes found in their district and
would generally have access to the antivenenes for these.
come across venomous snakes because of their behaviour as
Inquisitive nature or fun in puppies and young dogs.
The snake may be no more than a rustle in the grass but
the dog can not resist chasing the sound and pouncing up
and down in the grass searching for the source, or the
snake may be in the open and the dog considers it
something to play with. In either case the snake may
behave in a defensive way by biting. Although older
dogs are similarly at risk, they are often less
interested. However, the following behavioural trait is
more likely to manifest itself in older dogs.
Hunting and territorial behaviours are to some extent
breed-specific. If a snake moves through the yard these
dogs are quick to attack it. In many cases they are
successful, however, as a dogs reflexes slow down with
age there is an increasing likelihood of snakebite.
Cats are natural hunters and often find snakes. A
problem to owners of snake-catching cats is their habit
of returning home with a live snake. Little will
discourage cats from hunting snakes.
venom has six major components. The signs of snakebite
vary according to the relative strength of these components
in the venom of each type of snake.
block transmission between nerves and muscles leading to
weakness and eventually paralysis of all muscles
cause damage to muscles both locally at the site of the
bite and throughout the body.
toxins damage the red blood cells (hemolysis) which can
result in the passing of red or black urine
damage the lining of blood vessels (vascular damage)
resulting in bleeing.
destroy tissue cells, red and white blood cells
cause clots to form in blood vessels throughout the
body. Eventually this leads to an inability to clot (coagulopathy)
as the supply of clotting factors becomes exhausted.
Coral Snake, Australian Brown Snake, Tiger Snake, Taipan and
Death Adder venoms are predominantly neurotoxic. In early
stages the animal may look uncoordinated, with twitching,
excessive salavation. Pupils will fluctuate in size before
becoming fully dialated and unresponsive to light. More
severe cases progress to flaccid paralysis (collapsed and
floppy). Other symptoms may include – trembling, sweating,
vomiting, excitability and/or collapsing a few minutes after
being bitten. Death usually results from paralysis of the
respiratory muscles causing inability to breathe.
snake – weakness, collapse and initial hindquarter
paralysis which progresses to forequarter paralysis
are classic symptoms of brown snake bites. The
animal may make attempts to move, but does not
appear to have any strength and collapses again. If
untreated paralysis of the respiratory muscles
causes respiratory failure and death. There may be
paralysis and lolling of the tongue and also the
throat muscles, leading to voice loss, however,
before paralysis sets in, the animal may initially
appear excited, distressed and panting. Vomiting,
especially with traces of blood, is a poor
prognostic sign and indicates urgency.
snake – The signs are similar to that of the brown
snake but often with more excitement, more chance of
vomiting and being abnormally twitchy and sensitive
to stimulation. It is often impossible to
distinguish clinically between brown and tiger snake
poisoning. But it is of critical importance as far
as treatment goes because the brown snake antivenene
does not help tiger snake bite and visa versa.
snake – The neurotoxic (nerve affecting) effects of
black snake bite are much less pronounced, Black
snake venom affects the blood and tissues more
severely. The most important signs are weakness
with pale mucous membranes, sometime haemorrhages in
vomit or diarrhoea and a lesser degree of paralysis
snake – Although Death Adders and Mulga Snakes are
widespread in Australia they are rarely involved
In all cases of snakebite the correct antivenene in adequate
dosage (the dose is not dependant on animal size but on the
amount of venom injected) gives an excellent chance of
recovery if administered in time. Supportive treatment
includes corticosteroids, antibiotics (snakes mouths are
dirty), intravenous drips, hot water bottles etc.
Most fatalities do not occur quickly. Most occur 6
hours or more after being bitten.
A small percentage of bites will be rapidly fatal. In
these cases the animal is usually dead before any chance
of help is available. These are usually cases of
multiple bites or bites into the bloodstream or adjacent
Death may occur from paralysis of breathing
Symptoms may not be seen for up to 12 to 24 hours
You very rarely see the bite marks but may see an area
of stickiness around the bitten area, however, venomous
snakes usually leave two puncture marks at the sight.
Non-venomous snakes usually leave a row of teeth marks
Most bites are on the face, head and lower limbs
If unsure as to which type of snake has bitten an animal
there is a combined bown/tiger snake antivenene.
However, it would be worth checking if your local vet
stocks the combined and/or tiger or black snake
Snakebite treatment is successful in over 80% of cases.
A 12-inch long brown or tiger snake can kill a dog or
If more than one animal is bitten the second, third,
etc, can all die
Dogs are more susceptible to the venoms of snakes than
cats. If it involves a large venomous snake then the
prognosis is rarely good. Even so, if there are signs
of life, with the correct antivenene dogs can make a
remarkable recovery. Often it is the case with work
dogs on the farm that death occurs in the vehicle on the
way to town.
What Can You Do To Help
Identify the snake – if you can’t assume it’s poisonous
If the snake has been found and is dead, take it along
with the dog to the vet for identification
Restrict movement as much as possible. Carry the dog
don’t walk it
Wash the wound with cold water to remove any surface
venom (make sure you remember the location of the bit –
if it’s not an area that can be identified by bandage)
If the limb is bitten apply a pressure bandage from top
to bottom, not just to the wound site
For bites on the body, apply local pressure with the
If the dog is in an advanced state of collapse do not
hesitate in getting it to the vet.
Seek veterinary treatment immediately – ring ahead if
possible to ensure the correct antivenene is available.
Enclosures or backyards where dogs are kept should be
free of long grass and rubbish. This applies for the
area surrounding enclosures also. The addition of a low
(up to 1 metre) continuous corrugated iron or cement
sheet wall around the perimeter of the enclosure will
generally exclude snakes
Dry dog food should be stored in such a way as to lessen
its availability and attractiveness to mice
In warm weather be aware of snakes when you are out
walking, especially brown snakes which is the most
common snake bite to dogs. It is advisable to restrain
your dog on a leash, otherwise if the dog is exercised,
choose an open area where you can have visual contact
with it always.
Most snake bites to humans occur when people are trying to
either catch or kill a snake. Snakes are a protected