Firstly, my apologies to all of you who may cringe about the topic I am going to write about, for many people the mere mention of snakes is enough to make their skin crawl.
So, when I think of venomous snakes the locations that come to mind are; southern and central America, the Middle East, India and Australia, where I can picture zookeepers and animal rescues wrestling giant snakes in boiling heats. These images make it easy to forget that we have our own venomous snake in the UK.
Thankfully we only have the one venomous type: Vipera Berus, more commonly known as the Adder. Despite the staff here at Fenton Vets coming into regular contact with the pet snakes that visit us, we thankfully don’t see or hear of adders all that often. We also thankfully don’t often see many pets that have come into contact with them.
Adder bites generally occur between February- October, peaking in June- August when the weather is warmer. Most of the patients we see have bites on the face or lower limbs due to our pets’ natural curiosity. Reactions can occur within 5 minutes but can also be delayed up to a few hours. Some signs to look out for if you think your pet has been bitten are swelling, nausea, vomiting, colic, diarrhoea, lethargy, fever, and sadness (depression).
It is important to note that swellings to the neck and face can cause some breathing difficulties. Although it is possible to detect puncture wounds on closer examination, it is better not to touch the site as this can cause further swelling.
So where should we be keeping our eyes open for these snakes?
Any areas of heathlands, woodland edges, areas of open countryside and, most commonly in Pembrokeshire, old airfields. Snakes love these abandoned places with thick coverage to hide and areas of concrete and tarmac which heat up evenly on cold but sunny days. If you plan to walk your dog then try and walk them before the day gets warmer and keep a close eye on them.
If you suspect that your pet has come into contact with an adder, please do not go looking for the snake, they can bite people too! Please contact your vet where they can check your pet over, take bloods, and give fluid therapy and treatments as required. It is really easy to panic but important that you remain calm.
Many dogs are rarely affected badly as seen in the photo below. Bryn came to visit us at the end of last month having put his nose too close to an adder. (You can see swelling on his muzzle and under his lips.) He wasn’t too bothered by the whole experience, he didn’t need to stay overnight with us, he had some medication to go home with and quite enjoyed getting lots of TLC and belly rubs from us and his mum. Let’s hope that he learns not to play with snakes again!!
(Thanks to Bryn and his mum for the photos and to Bryn for being a star patient!)
Alice Bennett RVN