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Snake bites in Dogs & Cats

Snake bites in Dogs & Cats

Australia is home to 10 of the most venomous snakes in the world. However, bites to humans are rare and human fatalities number around two a year. For our pets the story is a little different.

Who is affected?


Any dog or cat can be bitten by a snake in Australia, although different snakes have different habitats. There are approximately 170 species of snake in Australia, and it is wise to understand which species are endemic to your area. Some of the deadliest snakes include:

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  • Eastern brown snake (Pseudonaja textilis)
  • Western brown snake (Pseudonaja mengdeni)
  • Mainland tiger snake (Notechis scutatus)
  • Inland taipan (Oxyuranus microlepidotus)
  • Coastal taipan (Oxyuranus scutellatus)
  • Mulga snake or king brown snake (Pseudechis australis)
  • Lowlands copperhead (Austrelaps superbus)
  • Small-eyed snake (Rhinoplocephalus nigrescens)
  • Common death adder (Acanthophis antarcticus)
  • Red-bellied black snake (Pseudechis porphyriacus)

Snakes become more active in spring and early summer. Some snake bites may be a case of being in “the wrong place at the wrong time”, but some pets have strong hunting instincts and so may seek out or provoke snakes when they are found. This perhaps explains why the Fox Terrier has the highest prevalence for snake bite according to PetSure claims data across the 2020 calendar year as these spritely terriers have retained a strong prey drive. 

According to PetSure data (across 2020 calendar year), Snake bite was most prevalent in the following breeds of dog:

Breed

Prevalence

Fox Terrier Smooth 

1.36%

German Short Haired Pointer

1.02%

Tenterfield Terrier

0.80%

Bengal 

0.76%

Alaskan Malamute

0.76%

Jack Russell Terrier 

0.70%

Tonkinese Cat 

0.64%

Maremma Sheepdog 

0.51%

Standard Poodle 

0.48%

Siberian Husky

0.38%

Prevalence = Total number of unique claiming pets / total number of insured pets across 12-month period. Excludes breeds with less than 500 active pet insurance policies.

Prevention is always better than the cure, here are some basic things you can do to help prevent snake bites:

  • avoid walking in long, grassy areas - especially in the warmer months
  • keep your dog on a leash to prevent them from running off into snake habitats
  • keep your backyard clean of rubbish and the grass short
  • keep cats indoors or in a cat friendly and snake proof enclosure 

Signs of Snake bite

The signs of snake bite can vary depending on the type of snake and how much venom the pet has received. If your pet has had contact with a snake or you think they have had contact with a snake, immediately contact your vet for advice. 

Common signs of snake bite include: 

  • Collapse, or collapse followed by what seem to be a quick return to normal 
  • Signs of paralysis or weakness 
  • Dilated pupils, drooping eyelids 
  • Bleeding from orifices 
  • Red or dark urine 
  • Shaking or tremors 
  • Vomiting 
  • Involuntary urination or defecation 
  • Changes to breathing 
  • Pain 

Occasionally you may see bite marks. Places to look for these include the face, under the lips and on the front legs. They may look like superficial scratches or spots of blood. Sometimes there is swelling and pain in the location of the bite. 

Management of Snake bite  

The main effects of Australian snake venom are paralysis, prolonged or excessive bleeding, the rupturing of red blood cells (haemolysis) and muscular weakness. 

Treatment can be costly. Anti-venom, hospitalisation and supportive care, such as intravenous fluids, antibiotics and so on is often required. In some instances, mechanical ventilation is needed to assist the pet to breathe. The associated intensive care costs can be thousands of dollars. 

Severely affected pets may require multiple vials of anti-venom, which also increases the cost of treatment. Up to 10 vials could be used on some dogs in order to save their lives.

How much does it cost to treat?

According to PetSure claims data in the 2020 calendar year, the average, single treatment cost relating to Snake bite was $910 with the highest, single treatment cost being $15,055.

Disclaimer: Reimbursement for these claims would be subject to limits, such as annual benefit limits or sub-limits, benefit percentage, applicable waiting periods and any applicable excess. Cover is subject to the policy terms and conditions. You should consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement or policy wording available from the relevant provider. 

References

  1. Cronshaw, D, 2019, St George & Sutherland Shire Leader, Snakes in Australia – the truth and the myths about getting bitten, 9 February 2019, Accessed on 25 November 2020
  2. Hoy, T, 2012, Australian Geographic, Australia’s 10 most dangerous snakes, July 25, 2012, Accessed on 25 November 2020

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Kylie Mitchell is a veterinarian with over 17 years experience in animal health and welfare, including in the veterinary and pet insurance industries

She has three rescue cats (Noah, Bei Bei and Meeka), four very old cockatiels and a pond-full of fish.

Kylie's pets

Noah
Noah
Bei Bei
Bei Bei
Meeka
Meeka