Snake bites to increase during drought, says Pet Medical vet Dr Peta Gay Railton

VETERINARIANS have advised that drought conditions will see an increase in the likelihood of snake bites during the coming summer and are urging pet owners to be aware of the increased risk and to have a plan in the event their animal is bitten. 

The warnings come as above average temperatures have seen an early start to the snake season. 

Already Pet Medical in Scone and Muswellbrook are treating snake bites.

Head veterinarian Dr Peta Gay Railton said they were preparing for a surge in coming months. 

“Snakes are always about but you just don’t see them as much in the long grass,” she said.

“With drought conditions and no feed about, pets are more likely to see the snakes and go after them.

“Our data shows increases of up to 22 per cent of pets presenting with snake bite during years of drought, so it is important to be vigilant.”

In the event of a bite or even a suspected bite, Dr Railton recommends pets are taken to the vets as quickly as possible. 

“It can take some time for symptoms to present and then when they do, you may only have 20 minutes to save them,” she said.

“If an animal is immediately showing signs of a snake bite we inject the anti-venom straight away. 

“If there’s uncertainty we can insert a catheter, ready to provide the anti-venom if needed. 

“We can run a quick blood test and our staff monitor for early signs so we are able to give the antivenom as soon as we see any early signs of evenomation. 

“With time the venom becomes protein bound in the body and out of reach of the antivenom, so it’s important to act quickly. 

“The antivenom is expensive so we don’t want to give it unnecessarily but we don’t want to miss one either, so we don’t take our eyes off the animal. 

“We do remind people however that prevention is always better than treatment. 

“It’s important to minimise food sources for snakes by removing anything that could attract mice or frogs and to reduce the amount of rubbish and materials where a snake could shelter. 

“When water is scarce, snakes are also attracted to water sources like ponds in a drought.”

Symptoms of snake bite vary pending on the type of snake and the amount of venom injected into the animal. 

Dr Railton also said the time taken for the clinical signs to appear depends on the amount of venom and the location of the bite. 

“The venom goes into the fat and then to lymphatic system and, from there, around the body,” she explained.

“This is why they tell you to wrap the bite site in humans – this slows the progression of the venom from fat to lymphatics. 

“You can’t find the site of the bite in animals bitten by brown or tiger snake, unless it’s on the lip and you have good eyesight; it’s basically just a couple of pin pricks.

“Black snake venom contains a lot of anticoagulant so they tend to bleed from the site of the bite, which makes it a bit more obvious. 

“Following a snake bite dogs will often show signs: profuse salivation, wobbliness, maybe vomit, then seemingly recover only to crash a bit later, becoming paralysed and floppy with huge black pupils followed often by death.

“There are so many different signs because snake venom is a cocktail of different toxins and that’s what makes them so lethal.”

This story Pet owners warned about higher risks first appeared on Hunter Valley News.