When you think of the challenges facing pet owners in the UK, poisonous snakes aren’t exactly the first thing that spring to mind. Some might not even be aware that we have such a thing on this isle. Adders do reside here though, and their venom can make a dog very unwell indeed. The problem with dogs is that they are curious, and they roam and explore all the nooks and crannies on every walk. This might explain why they are more likely to sustain a nasty nip from our fanged friends compared to people; adders aren’t particularly aggressive creatures, they just don’t appreciate being bothered by nosey parkers with persistent paws. For reasons which we will go on to explain, being armed with information on what to do in the event of an adder bite could make all the difference to your canine.
Where do adders reside?
It is helpful to consider this question both on a local and national scale in order to understand when your pet is at an increased risk and when you should be hyper vigilant. When staycationing with your canine, a quick search here (http://surrey-arg.org.uk/SARGWEB.php?app=SpeciesData&Species=adder) will reveal a national map depicting the prominence of adders in any given region; you will notice that Wiltshire is one such region which adders have decided to call home. Now we know that a run in with an adder is potentially on the cards for Wiltshire dog walks, how can we avoid them? Adders are sunseekers, requiring safe spots for basking in the heat; they also need safe havens to hide and recuperate. Heathland, woodland, long grass, coastal regions and moorland tend to fit the bill; exactly the places we really enjoy walking with our woofs. Spring and summer tend to be when adders are most active, as they hibernate through the colder months.
Is it an adder?
To know when you should be worried, it’s a good idea to geek up on the appearance of adders. They are grey, white, yellow, cream, or brown/red in colour and have a distinctive diamond/zigzag pattern extending down the length of their body. Interestingly they sport an ‘H’, ‘V’, or an ‘X’ shape at the base of their head. They tend to run to lengths of just over half a metre, sometimes as long as 90cm.
My dog tangled with an adder, what should I do?
Whilst it’s helpful to try to get a good look at the offending snake in the interests of confirming its identity, we urge owners not to get too close or risk getting bitten themselves. Given that they are a protected species, it is also helpful to know that harming one is an offence. Much better to stay calm, gain control of your dog and keep them still. Stopping your pet from moving steadies the heart rate and prevents that almighty pump from pushing the venom further round the body via the bloodstream. Small dogs are best carried to the car and where possible, the car should be brought to larger dogs who are too heavy to carry. Phone the vet and let them know that you are on the way to them so that they may prepare for your arrival. A final piece of advice is to leave the bite unbandaged and do not apply a tourniquet.
Dogs cover so much more ground than their human counterparts when walking, so you might be unaware that they were even bitten. Knowing the signs and symptoms of adder bites can be very helpful in these cases:
- Swelling, and pain at the bite
- Small puncture wounds (often very hard to see)
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
- Pale mucous membranes (gums)
- Increased respiration or difficulty breathing
- Bruising or bleeding
- Collapse or seizures
Treating adder bites
The key message here is that the sooner they are treated, the better the prognosis. When venom is mostly localised to the tissue into which it was ‘injected’, milder (though still very unpleasant) symptoms tend to ensue. When venom spreads around the body, damage to the liver, kidneys, nervous system and heart can occur, and this becomes a greater concern. Treatment is likely to include pain relief, antihistamines, a drip, and hospitalisation. At the moderate to more severe end of the scale, we see pets requiring anti-venom, antibiotics and possibly even surgery due to tissue necrosis taking hold.
We hope you enjoy some wonderful walks with your woofs. Just remember to take care, stay vigilant and to treat snake bites as an emergency situation.
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