Dogs bitten by deadly snakes

2016-01-26 06:00
The presence of puff adders (pictured) and Cape cobras has led to an increase in the number of snake bites in pets, says a local veterinary hospital with several branches across the Peninsula. Snake bite treatment is a very expensive affair, but can save the life of a pet.

The presence of puff adders (pictured) and Cape cobras has led to an increase in the number of snake bites in pets, says a local veterinary hospital with several branches across the Peninsula. Snake bite treatment is a very expensive affair, but can save the life of a pet.

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Snakes soaking up the sun and slithering away from veld fires often end up in residential backyards, making them a serious adversary to domestic pets.

Because of this, veterinarians Ryan Norrie and Nolan Moss at the Tygerberg Animal Hospital say their hospital has recently seen an increase in the number of snake bites in pets.

“We have definitely seen an increase in snake bites this year,” Moss says. “There seems to be an increase across the Cape Peninsula.”

He says while no accurate numbers are available, the largest number of snake bite incidents are taking place close to Table Mountain.

The reason is simple, Moss says. “Snakes are more active in hot, dry weather, which may account for the increased numbers recently.”

Fires send snakes fleeingNorrie agrees: “Snakes are cold-blooded animals that raise their body temperature by lying in the sun or lower it by crawling into the shade. So this means snake bites will be less likely to happen in winter time as the snakes are hibernating.

“Also, something to think about is all of the fires we are experiencing – you find that most wildlife will move to safer areas, and this could be your backgarden or even your house,” Norrie says.

They have seen mostly Cape cobra and puff adder snake bites over the last two months, Moss adds.

He explains a bit more about the chemical reactions caused by the two toxins: “Cape cobras are neurotoxic and cause paralysis of the respiratory muscles, leading to death. Puff adders are cytotoxic and bites cause severe tissue swelling, with fluid, blood and protein loss.

“In both cases anti-venom treatment reduces the severity of clinical signs but must be given in the early stages,” Moss says.

According to him, cobra bite victims need to be placed on a ventilator, normally for one to three days, and they require intensive care, while puff adder victims often develop shock and multiple organ failure, requiring intensive care and usually multiple plasma and blood transfusions.

And treatment is not cheap.

“The cost of treatment can escalate beyond R30 000 in some cases. Many animals unfortunately die before they are presented to the clinic.”

Moss adds cobra bites that are treated aggressively and early usually have a more promising outcome, but not so with puff adder bites.

“Even with aggressive treatment the prognosis for puff adder bites is always guarded,” Moss says.

“I recently treated a staff member’s dog that required four blood transfusions, six plasma transfusions and took over one month to fully recover,” he says.

Norrie says they’ve seen some really sad cases, but it’s not all doom and gloom.

“Most of the time if a pet pulls through from such an attack there are hardly any after-effects, but possible scarring or muscle loss from dead tissue has been seen.

“You won’t see it very often, but if a patient was bitten on an extremity and to save the pet’s life, amputation can be an option,” he says.

“We have seen some heartbreaking cases where the outcome was death. In one case we had two rottweilers that were bitten by the same snake and both dogs were put down due to their state,” says Norrie.

Owners must keep clearHe adds when pets are bitten, owners need to keep clear of the snakes to avoid being bitten themselves. So how can owners avoid pets getting bitten?

“There is no way of avoiding snake bites at home short of permanently housing the pet,” says Moss.

Pet owners need to be aware of the risks when taking their animals on walks, and adds they need to learn to identify the two snakes.

“Neither snake is particularly aggressive. Pet owners should never attempt to confront a snake,” Moss says.

Once bitten, time is of the essence, especially where the Cape cobra is concerned.

“Only a few veterinary practices stock anti-venom due to its high cost, and fewer practices still have 24-hour care and ventilators, for the same reason.

“Pet owners should acquaint themselves with practices that are able to treat snake bites. If a pet is bitten by either snake, they should immediately be transported to a 24-hour facility that possesses a ventilator and stocks anti-venom.”

Norrie says their facility is one of few that stocks the required anti-venom and is open at all hours.

V Has your pet been the unfortunate victim of a snake bite? Let People’s Post know about your experience by emailing

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