With the summer just days away, dog owners are being warned to monitor their dogs and cats closely this summer, especially if they live or walk near bush land reserves. As the weather warms up snakes become a significant threat to our pets, particularly those with a strong prey drive and a highly investigative nature. According to Murdoch University’s Dr Katrin Swindells, it is often difficult to tell when a dog has been bitten.
“While some dogs (and cats) will show symptoms known as pre-paraletic signs such as periods of wobbliness, collapsing, inappropriate urination or defecation, or vomiting, others will not show any signs – and a bite site can be extremely hard to find amongst their hair,” she said.
“Your pet may not feel any pain, there may not be any swelling and they may not yelp or cry. Some pets show no initial symptoms, but can stop breathing within an hour of being bitten.”
“If you see your pet come into contact with a snake, take it to your vet immediately for assessment.”
Dr Swindells added that animals can die from paralysis caused by the venom in a venomous snake bite – so it’s important for owners to act immediately to treat the animal with anti-venom.
If your dog or cat has killed a snake, take them and the snake to your vet – so they can identify the kind of anti-venom your pet needs. But don’t kill the snake. Not only is it illegal, it puts your own safety at risk. Vets can usually run tests to learn what kind of snake has bitten your pet.
Unlike first aid training for people, pressure bandages are not recommended for pets with suspected snake bites. “Animals are most commonly bitten around their head, neck, shoulders and chest – so a pressure bandage in any of these areas would interfere with the animal’s breathing.”
The good news, according to Dr Swindells, is that survival rates are generally high, around 90% of pets expected to survive if they receive the correct treatment.
Sometimes the cost of anti-venom, which can range between $300 and $2000 depending on the type, can prevent pet owners from proceeding with treatment, so in some cases the pet is euthanased. Dr Swindells recommends pet insurance to ensure that owners can afford the cost of treatments in emergency situations.
Here are some tips to help keep your dogs and cats safe from snake bites this summer….
- Snake-proof your property. Many snakebites happen in backyards, particularly near bushland or in new developments where bushland is being cleared. To make your property less attractive to snakes, clear thick undergrowth and long grass around your home. Snakes are attracted to areas with rats and mice, so take steps to keep rodents away from your property. If you have bird aviaries, cave in any burrows that are formed, as snakes can use these to get into aviaries.
- Keep your pets away from snakes. If you have a cat, try to keep them inside or in outdoor enclosures, which are becoming increasingly common. If you have a dog, try to keep them on a leash when you’re walking. If this isn’t possible, pay close attention to the area you’re walking through. Keep your dog close to you if there is long grass, you’re around lakes that have a lot of frogs, or you’re in an area known to have a lot of snakes. Pay attention if your dog starts to bark at something, or if your dog or cat starts to chase something at your home, or at a reserve.
- Act immediately – don’t wait for symptoms. If your dog or cat has been in contact with a snake, take it to your vet to be assessed immediately. Unlike when people are bitten by snakes, your pet may not show any obvious signs of a snakebite. They might not be in pain and the bite may not be visible at all, or may look like a minor scratch. Symptoms of envenomation can take less than an hour to show, and by that time it may be too late – so get help straight away. Some envenomated animals may take 12-24 hours to show signs.
- Watch for unusual behavior. While many snakebites can initially go undetected, your dog or cat may show some symptoms if they were bitten by a highly venomous snake. Some pets will show symptoms known as pre-paraletic signs such as periods of wobbliness, collapsing, inappropriate urination or defacation or vomiting. Get them to your vet or emergency centre immediately.
- Try to identify the snake, but don’t kill it. If the snake is dead, take it to the vet with you to help your vet determine the right kind of anti-venom to treat your pet. If you don’t know what kind of snake may have bitten your pet, your vet can run tests. If the snake is still alive, don’t kill it. This is illegal, and puts your own safety at risk at a time when your pet needs your full attention.
- Know basic pet first aid. The most important thing to do if your dog or cat has been bitten by a snake is to get them to a vet immediately. In some cases, your dog or cat may stop breathing before you arrive at your vet or emergency centre – so you may need to perform mouth-to-nose resuscitation on the way. Don’t use pressure bandages on your pet. While humans are often bit on their limbs, animals are usually bitten around their head, neck, shoulders and chest – so any type of pressure bandage could interfere with their breathing.
- Be prepared for emergencies. If your dog or cat is bitten by a snake, treatments using anti-venom from your vet could be life-saving. Anti-venom can be costly, ranging from around $300 up to $2000 for each vial depending on the type. Unfortunately sometimes the costs of anti-venom mean that not all owners can afford to get the treatment their dog or cat needs – but having an emergency plan for your pet, such as pet insurance, could make all the difference.