How to deal with snakebites in dogs and cats

Snakebites are common emergencies in veterinary clinics across Australia, particularly during the warmer seasons.

Dogs and cats are particularly at high risk of venomous snakebites due to their inquisitive nature and the number of highly venomous snake species in this country. Snake venom acts rapidly and may potentially be fatal. Therefore, all snakebites must be treated as emergencies.

When to be concerned about a snakebite

If your pet is bitten, do not spend time trying to identify the snake or stop to kill the snake. Assume all snakes are venomous and that your case is an emergency. Do not be fooled by lack of immediate  signs or signs of apparent recovery.

Signs of snake envenomation

Immediate symptoms can include:

  • Vomiting
  • Salivating
  • Collapse and recovery
  • Trembling
  • Quiet demeanour
  • Difficulty walking
  • Shallow breathing.

Signs that may occur after a few hours include:

  • Regurgitation
  • Big pupils
  • Weakness or difficulty walking
  • Reluctance to walk or jump
  • Paralysis
  • Red urine.

What to do if you suspect your pet has been bitten

Keep your pet as quiet and still as possible

  • Movement makes the venom spread faster.
  • Carry your pet to the car if you can.

Take your pet to a vet immediately

  • Animal emergency centres are open 24/7.
  • Do not wait and watch for signs. Every moment that passes worsens the envenomation and makes treatment less effective.

If your pet is collapsed or stops breathing

  • Keep your pet’s airway clear of vomit if possible. If they are collapsed, keep their head down to allow vomiting and saliva to drain out. Do not put your fingers in your pet’s mouth as they may panic and bite.
  • If your pets breathing stops, or if their tongue turns blue, perform expired air resuscitation (E.A.R.) Keep their mouth closed and breathe into their nostrils. Give 1 breath every 5 seconds. Don’t stop until you reach the vet clinic.

First aid

Most animal bites occur on the face. However, if your pet has been bitten on a lower limb, you may apply first aid using a bandage (as described for humans). Only do this if it does not significantly delay getting your pet to a vet.

At the vet clinic

On arrival
Ensure you inform the receptionist that you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake. All snakebites are treated as an emergency and should be seen immediately.

Decision
Severe cases are stressful as rapid treatment decisions need to be made. Your pet may be taken from you to have a catheter placed and for oxygen support. Most incidents will require antivenom: very serious cases will require life support.

Cost
Treatment for snakebites can be very expensive so pet insurance is recommended.

Emergency contact open 24/7

Phone (03) 9731 2000 and select option '1'.

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