Adder Bites in Dogs

Adders are the only venomous snake native to the UK. They can be distinguished from other, non-poisonous snakes by the zigzag pattern on their back and V-shaped markings on their head. They hibernate during the winter and reappear in spring as their environment warms up. They are most commonly found on dry sandy heaths, sand dunes, rocky hillsides, moorland and woodland edges, particularly in the south of England

It‘s uncommon for dogs to be bitten by Adders. They will attack only in self-defence but, unfortunately, dogs are unaware of the danger and can often provoke an attack through their excessive curiosity. If an Adder does attack a dog, it will inject venom – most commonly into the face or forelimbs.

Signs of an Adder bite usually appear rapidly; local swelling, pain, bleeding and lameness. If venom is rapidly absorbed into the system, it can cause a widespread inflammatory reaction leading to symptoms such as lethargy, fever, increased heart and respiratory rates, drooling, vomiting and wobbliness.

Most cases make a full recovery but, occasionally, more severe effects are seen such as breathing problems, collapse, convulsions, kidney failure, bleeding disorders or abnormal heart rhythms.

Urgent veterinary treatment is required. Carry your dog rather than allow them to walk to try to reduce the spread of venom around the body.  Bathe the wound in cold water to help control the swelling and keep your dog as calm as possible en-route to the vet.

Treatment of Adder bites is aimed at supporting the circulation, reducing swelling, alleviating the pain and preventing secondary infections. It is likely that fluids will be given via a catheter; and steroids, possibly anti-histamines and/or antibiotics may be given. Following treatment, cage rest is recommended to reduce the absorption of venom into the circulatory system. There is an anti-venom available, which can be useful in some cases but depends on availability.

The most important factor in a dog’s response to an Adder bite is rapid and appropriate treatment. The dog should be taken to a veterinary surgery as soon as possible.

Although the risk of Adder bites is quite low, it is advisable to be cautious at this time of year, especially in areas where the snakes are known to be present.

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