Be Snake Savvy
Advice for Working Gundog Handlers
signals the onset of warmer weather and the end of another a busy
trialling season for most Retrieving enthusiasts. With more clement
conditions and time available it can be tempting to spend more
time outside exercising our dogs and exploring new places for a bit of
training. Unfortunately, this is also when we start to see snakes
about placing dogs and handlers at higher risk of snakebite
Australia, there are about 3,000 snakebites inflicted to humans each
year. However, only one or two tend to prove fatal on average thanks to
modern antivenoms. About half of deaths are due to bites from the Brown
snake; the rest mostly from Tiger snake, Taipan and Death Adder.
Numbers of snakebites to dogs are not as well recorded, but are
frequent with one survey estimating 6,200+ annual snakebites to
domestic animals (mostly cats and dogs) seen by Australian Vets
annually. Bites were more prominent in rural areas 78% than urban 22%,
with dogs representing 47% of rural cases and 34% of urban cases. (Mirtschin PJ et al AVJ (1998); 76:195-198)
have a toxin that causes paralysis and also have an agent in them that
attacks the clotting factors that help to stop bleeding.
Tiger snakes also have a toxin that breaks down muscle causing damage
to the kidneys. During summer, snakes' venom glands are fuller so bites
are much more severe. The degree of damage inflicted by a venomous
snake is determined by many variables including the snake’s age and
species, intensity and depth of the fang penetration, amount of venom
injected, location of the bite and the pet or person’s size.
Non-poisonous snake bites tend to leave teeth marks in the shape of a
horseshoe, while poisonous snakes create fang marks on victims.
Reducing the risks
most snakes prefer to hide when faced with a threat. If they can't
escape, then they'll bite. That's when dogs typically get bitten. They
put their noses where they don't belong and instead of letting a snake
slither away they bother the reptile until it strikes.
tend to be most active towards the end of day when they are hunting for
food, with snake bites often happening in late afternoon or early
evening. So avoid walking, training or working your dog/s at these
times if you are in a snake prone area.
Prevention is the most
effective strategy to protect dogs from snakes. If you must
exercise or work your dog/s keep them tethered whenever possible rather
than allowing them to roam around. Only allow your dog some supervised
freedom if it is fully trained for Stop and Recall commands. Stay
on established paths or trails instead of hiking through areas where
snakes can hide. Don’t have your dog retrieve through long grass
either. If you have to cross long grassed areas in order to get to
happy hunting or training grounds, survey terrain in and around your direction of travel closely and keep your dog on a lead. Also, be sure to wear solid shoe and leg protection to protect yourself. If you do spot a snake in its natural habitat, endeavour to give it sufficient room to pass.
water, snakes are particularly fond of frogs as a food source and will
often hang around ponds, dams and creeks waiting for a meal
to show up. Naturally, these are also irresistible destinations for
gundogs as well so extra care is needed when visiting water holes on hot summer days.
Before letting Fido loose, examine banks for clear entry and exit
points to the water and use them. Avoid reeds and dense cover by the
If your dog is bitten
off to a new location, consider checking the whereabouts of closeby
veterinary services and carry a mobile phone just in case.
a dog has been bitten by a venomous snake a few
factors affect its chances of survival. First, someone must see
the dog getting bitten. Second, if your dog was bitten on his chest,
his risks are far higher than if he was bitten on his paw or snout.
Proximity to the heart increases probability of bleeding
and tissue damage. If you think your dog has been bitten try to
keep your pet (and yourself) calm and take it to a vet immediately. Keep the dog as still as possible after the bite occurred and during transport.
chances of recovery are greater if your dog is treated early with
some making good recovery within 48 hours. Dogs left untreated
have a much lower survival rate. If a vet is far away, apply a
pressure bandage (a firm bandage over and around the bite site) to help
slow the venom spreading to the heart. But, make sure you don't cut-off
circulation to a limb that has suffered a snake bite. DO NOT wash the
wound or apply a tourniquet, and NEVER try to cut into the bite wound
or suck out the venom. Also, do not apply ice or heat to the wound.
If you can identify the snake (see Table 1)
tell your vet but don’t try to catch or kill the snake. Most bites to
humans occur as a result of interfering with the snake. Instead,
consider taking a photo of it with your camera or phone if
possible to show the vet (but avoid getting within striking distance).
If it is dead, bring the snake with you, otherwise there is a blood or
urine test that can identify whether your animal has been bitten and
the type of snake responsible. Once the snake has been identified your
vet can administer antivenom. Be warned though, antivenom
is expensive and can result in a hefty veterinary bill, so try and
keep your dog/s safe in the first place.
Before the advent of polyvalent antivenoms it was extremely important
to positively identify the snake. While less important now it
still remains highly desirable because snake-specific antivenoms are less
hazardous to the patient than polyvalent antivenoms. Snake
identification can be difficult if it was only seen fleetingly or in
poor light. Scale patterns and colours can be quite unreliable,
especially for Brown snakes. Venom identification kits used by vets as an alternative are able
to accurately identify the type of snake in 30
minutes and reduce the need for
administration of polyvalent antivenom. If identification is uncertain,
vets may treat with a polyvalent to be on the safe side.
to the Mirstschin survey, 75% of dogs survived following the
administration of antivenom whereas only 31% of dogs survived without
antivenom. In 33% of cases antivenom was not used, and venom detection
kits were used in only 1% of cases. The clinical implication being that
antivenom significantly improves the chances of survival.Snakebite Symptoms
- Bleeding, bruising, and swelling around the site of the bite wound
- Excessive swelling on the area of the body the bite occurred (for
example, if the bite was on the head the dog’s whole head may begin to
balloon within a matter of minutes)
- Colour changes to the tissue surrounding the wound such as red, blue, and black as the tissue dies
- Signs of shock such as pale gums, cool skin, and tremors
- Weakness, lethargy, confusion, and lack of coordination
- Slow respiration
- Sudden weakness followed by collapse
- Fang marks may or may not be visible, due to the dog’s coat
- Blood does not clot
- Neurological signs such as twitching, drooling, shaking or twitching of the muscles and difficulty blinking
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- Dilated pupils
- Ascending paralysis (hind legs affected first)
- Blood in urine
Table 1. Common Australian Snakes and Locations
|Common or Eastern Brown Snake Pseudonaja textilis|
Brown Snake is found all over Australia. Colours vary from
dark brown to light orange. This is an agressive snake and has
venom and causes more snakebite deaths in Australia than any
other. Sudden and relatively early deaths have been recorded. Its venom
causes severe blood problems which can lead to excesive
bleeding and damage to the nevous system, brain and kidneys. The
'Gwardir' is also known as the Western Brown snake,
and the 'Dugite' is a spotted brown snake found in Western Australia.
All need Brown snake antivenom.
|Taipan Oxyuranus scuttelatus|
The Taipan is found mostly along the non-desert areas of north and
north-east Australia (from Brisbane to Darwin). It is an aggressive,
large, slender snake and may be coloured any shade of brown but always
has a rectangular head (large in proportion to the body) and red eye.
Venom output is high and can cause blood and bleeding problems as well
as muscle and kidney damage. Paralysis is difficult to reverse unless
Untreated, a strong bite will almost certainly be fatal.
|Tiger Snake Notechis scutatus|
The Tiger snake lives in the temperate southern areas of Australia. The
characteristic stripes are not seen all year round and there is a
totally black variant found around the Flinders Ranges area of South
Australia. As well as blood poisoning, muscle and nervous system damage is
very likely if treatment is delayed. Untreated mortality is about 45%.
|Death Adder Acanthopis antarcticus|
The Death Adder has a characteristic appearance and may be striped. It has
strongly neurotoxic venom. Blood defects are usually minor and muscle / skeletal damage is almost never seen. Any paralysis is
easily reversed by antivenom.
|Copperhead Austrelaps superbus|
The Copperhead is found in Tasmania, Victoria, and the western plains of
NSW. Its venom can cause blood poisoning, nervous system, brain and muscle tissue issues,
however, despite its large venom output, bites are rarely fatal. Tiger
snake antivenom may be used for treatment.
|Rough Scaled Snake Tropidechis carinatus|
The Rough Scaled snake is found mostly in northeastern non-arid areas. It
may be striped and hence confused with the tiger snake. It is
extremely ill-tempered and has venom which can cause blood poisoning, paralyisis and nervous system problems.
|King Brown or Mulga snake Pseudechis australis|
The King Brown (or Mulga) snake is found in all arid parts of Australia and
has the greatest venom output which can cause blood, paralyisis
and nervous system problems, but of relatively low toxicity. It has a
defined dark crosshatched pattern on its scales and is more related to
the black snakes than the brown. King Brown bites require black snake
|Redbellied Black Snake Pseudechis porphyriacus|
The Redbellied Black snake is found in all eastern non-arid areas. While
the venom can cause blood poisoning, paralyisis and nervous system issues it is not
as potent as most and no deaths after a Redbellied Black snake have yet
been reported. However, be careful as this
snake can jump in the air if disturbed or chased. Black or Tiger antivenom may be used.
What to do if you find a snake
The first impulse of many of our readers will undoubtedly be to take matters into their own hands! However, it is important to note that all Australian snakes are protected species and more importantly, that the majority of human snake bites actually occur when people handle snakes in an attempt to kill or relocate them. So, if you do come across a snake it's probably best not to try and catch or kill it and expose yourself to unnecessary danger.
on the other hand, you have a close encouter in an area you
consider more your environment that theirs (like your home or
yard) and continuing presence poses saftey concerns, then calling
professional assistance from a reptile removalist (Snake Catcher)
is the safest solution. Most Snake Catchers are independent
volunteers who provide a safety-related service for the public and a
welfare-related service for native fauna. You
can find Snake Catchers in your area by simply searching
online. Alternatively, most hospitals and veterinary
clinics keep details of local catchers.
Retrieving Australia Oct. 2015.
page is provided by Working Gundog Club Inc.
(Affiliated with Dogs NSW)