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What to do if your dog is bitten by a Snake

Screen Shot 2017-09-26 at 3.50.16 PMWith spring suddenly upon us and the incredibly warm weather we are experiencing, it means the chance of coming across a snake on your walks has increased. In South Africa there are over 120 species and luckily most of them are not dangerous to animals or humans.

However, there are a handful that are venomous and a bite to you or your dog, can be fatal. Here is a list of the most dangerous snakes found in South Africa below, as well as what to do and what NOT to do in the event of being bitten.

Venomous Snakes in South Africa

The Black Mamba This is Africa’s largest venomous snake and can grow up to 4.5 metres. One of the fastest snakes and can move at over 20km/hour. It can inject fast-acting neurotoxins which paralyses. The Mamba injects powerful doses of venom and a man can die within 20 minutes of being bitten if the fangs hit a major vein or artery.

The Puff Adder Is extremely dangerous because it does not move out of the way of humans or dogs. They also have very long fangs and inject their venom deeply (which is cytotoxic and haemotoxic). It causes severe pain and swelling in the bitten limb, haemorrhages and nausea. Death is from secondary effects caused by the swelling, such as kidney failure.

The Boomslang. Usually found in trees or small shrubs. Their venom is haemotoxic and victims die from internal and external bleeding. A victim can end up bleeding from all orifices. The venom is very slow acting and it can take up to 24 hours for symptoms to appear.

Cape Cobra. The Cape Cobra raises the forefront of its body off the ground, spreads its hood and makes a hissing sound. When in this defensive mode, it will readily strike. They have powerful neurotoxins causing paralysis and breathing to shut down.

Rinkhals is a related member of the cobra family that is able to shoot venom from their fangs usually aiming for a person’s face. They often spray their venom in a person’s eyes and this can cause temporary or permanent blindness.

Mozambican Spitting Cobra. It is a relatively small and thin snake that can spit its venom between 2 and 3 metres, usually aiming for the eyes.

If bitten, the symptoms and severity of the bite depend on a wide range of factors.

  • Firstly was it a non-venomous or a venomous snake;
  • Which species of snake was it
  • The age and size of the dog or human, and where the bite occurred.

Should the bite be close to the heart this can be more serious as the venom will be pumped through the body rapidly. In dogs, bites occur most often on the limbs or muzzle.

Warning signs that your dog has been bitten by a venomous snake

  • Drooling
  • Rapid (or shallow) breathing
  • Dilated pupils
  • Pale gums
  • Vomiting
  • Incontinence
  • Shaking
  • Weakness
  • Collapse
  • In the later stages, paralysis

What NOT to do in the event of a snake bite

  • As difficult as it maybe try to keep your dog calm because with the adrenalin rushing through their veins this will speed up their metabolism which in turn causes the venom to spread faster.
  • Do not try and suck the poison out
  • Do not wash the wound
  • Do not use a tourniquet
  • Do not chase and kill the snake

What TO do in the event of a snake bite

  • Try to identify the snake by taking note of its size, shape of the head and colour patterns.
  • Take a photo if possible.
  • Protect yourself and your dog from further harm. This includes being bitten by an anxious, scared dog.
  • Look for fang marks and wrap a clean bandage on the affected limb snugly but not too tight. This will reduce the amount of venom from entering the bloodstream.
  • Try and keep the affected area lower than the heart and get to the nearest vet or human hospital as soon as possible. The vet or hospital will need to know as much information about the snake as possible to treat the victim accordingly. In most cases where a venomous snake bite has occurred, anti-venom will need to be given. The anti-venom is specific to each type of venom so it’s important the doctor or vet knows which one to administer. How to prevent a snake bite from occurring
  • If you are in a known snake habitat, keep your dog on a lead and check out the paths you are walking along.
  • Leash your dogs when hiking
  • Stay on marked trails and paths, where it’s easier to spot snakes
  • Don’t let your dog poke his nose in holes or under logs or go off into the undergrowth
  • If your dog is particularly curious, pawing at something or rushing off in the bushes call him back to you and keep him close by. Rather be safe than sorry!
  • If you spot a snake, keep still. If you and your dog are stationary the snake will not see you as a threat and hopefully probably glide away.
  • If you come upon a snake make sure he is not cornered so back away slowly, giving it an escape route.
  • Know what emergency measures to take in the event of a snakebite and where your nearest vet is in case of an emergency

Snakes don’t necessarily prey on victims but will strike in self-defense so a dog sniffing around could end up with disastrous consequences.

Therefore with a little planning and being aware of your environment you and your dog can go on many enjoyable walks and hikes.

By Joanna, Team Leader