Several dogs have been brought into the Clockhouse Veterinary Hospital in Stroud recently with adder bites. The adder is the only venomous snake native to Britain, but is not aggressive and will only use its venom as a last means of defence. Adders tend to prefer to live on the edges of woods or on commons and will move away, given half a chance.
The best advice is to treat adders with respect, leave them alone and ensure your dog doesn’t get too curious.
They are not in the same league as many venomous snakes, but their bite may still cause local tissue damage, swelling, some pain and there may be some discharge.
The more times a snake bites, the less venom it has to inject, so if it hasn’t eaten for a while, its venom sacs will be full and the bite will cause more damage.
Treatment varies from nothing, in mild cases, to hospitalisation with antiserum. If the bite is fresh, it’s hard to tell but if, after a few hours, there is only mild swelling, antiserum may not be required – it is quite expensive and supply is limited.
Diederick and Paul at Clockhouse have lots of experience treating snake bites in pets, with far more venomous snakes than we have in the UK. One of Diederick’s first experiences as a vet was to treat three dogs bitten by a Puff Adder. Two died and the third only survived because there was not enough venom left in the snake after biting the first two.
Paul, from Australia, once had a Tiger snake bite case every day for a week. Their venom combines a muscle paralysing component with a toxin that damages tissue. They are relatively fearless and easily provoked to attack. Animals that were alive on arrival were saved with antiserum, but sadly, half died on their way in.
Adders are not the most fearsome snakes and so far we have had no fatalities in dogs at Clockhouse, with or without antiserum, but it’s still well worth avoiding getting bitten. Paul Mitchell, BSc (Vet biol) BVMS MRCVS, is a father of 2 children, has a labrador and a pug, and is a fully qualified vet and director of Clockhouse Veterinary Group.