Snakes in Spring – a timely reminder by Dr Vadim Chelom
You know how it feels like winter will last forever? Cold mornings and cool evenings. Well spring is upon us and with it comes a danger of snakes.
Spring-time is the most dangerous
There are two reasons for this. First – snakes are cold blooded, so they need ambient heat to warm up. As the weather warms – snakes will seek sunny areas to sun bake. This can bring them into close contact with people and particularly dogs. Second – snake venom is especially potent in spring after a period of hibernation, and a snake bile can be more dangerous early in the season.
Every snake, everywhere
You may think that snakes are only a danger in the country, but I found myself meters away from a snake near the Yarra River in Heidelberg! So don’t assume. If there is water and long grass – expect snakes until proven otherwise.
There is also no such thing as a harmless snake (I am talking specifically about Melbourne, Victoria). Not unless you turn the snake over and examine the shape of the ventral scales with a magnifying glass. I personally don’t recommend this. Also the size of the snake doesn’t mean very much when it comes to the potency of the bite.
Don’t wait for the symptoms
A snake bite is life threatening for a dog or cat. Many pets don’t survive despite best round-the-clock care. If you suspect that your dog has been bitten, don’t wait to see the symptoms before seeking help. You are wasting valuable time. Rush your dog to the Vet immediately. The best Vet to go to is the one that offers 24 hour care, because if your dog was bitten, that’s what you are going to need. As a House Call Vet, I can take care of most things life throws at our dogs. But this is one time when the best I will do is to put your dog into my car and race to the nearest emergency centre.
The Vet will do a test (called snake venom detection kit) to work out which species is responsible. Sometimes if this is not available, the Vet may give a multivalent antivenom which works against multiple species of snakes. I have seen cats survive a snake bite without antivenom. I have never seen a dog do so, just personal experience. The supportive care is very intricate, very hands-on and very, very expensive.
So the best thing you can do is not let your dog be bitten in the first place. Stay away from long grass, particularly around waterways, and use common sense to protect yourself and your best mate.
Dr Vadim Chelom B.V.Sc.