Snake Bites and First Aid

Advice to owners regarding snake bites and first aid

Fortunately snake encounters are rare and even when they happen most dogs have the good sense to run in the opposite direction. However, on the occasion where a bite happens, being prepared with the knowledge of what to do can be the difference between life and death.

Depending on the species of snake and the toxin you may see a variety of symptoms, ranging from severe pain and swelling in the region of the bite, muscle weakness and paralysis through to uncontrollable bleeding. These symptoms can start very quickly (minutes with a Cobra bite) or be delayed (more than 12 hours with Keelbacks).

  1. ALL BITES should be treated as an EMERGENCY and you should inform your veterinary surgeon that you’re on your way so they can start to prepare anti-venom (see our updated list for those clinics which keep snake anti-venom in stock). Snake venom can be split into two categories depending on the species of snake – neurotoxin (affecting the nervous system) or haemotoxin (affecting the blood) which of course influences the choice of treatment. If possible take a picture of the snake or if dead collect the body – but never put yourself at risk!
  2. STAY CALM! Both you and your dog! Excitement will only make your pets heart beat faster, causing any toxin to rush around the body and reach its intended destination quicker.
  3. IMMOBILISE the limb and if possible carry your pet to transport them. Movement will increase the spread of toxin out of the bite area as the muscles contract and the blood pumps. Bites to limbs generally experience more successful outcomes than bites to the chest or abdomen.
  4. KEEP all bites below the level of the heart to avoid circulation of the toxin.
  5. DO NOT apply a tourniquet. This can cause much more damage than the snake bite and could cause your pet to lose their limb. Even when bitten by a poisonous snake venom is only injected in less than 50% of cases.
  6. DO NOT attempt to "suck" or "cut" out the venom and be sure to never place ice on the bite.

With prompt veterinary attention, administration of anti-venom and nursing care, fatalities from snake bites are uncommon.
For more information please speak to your veterinary surgeon.