Everything you need to know about snakes and your pets
Love them or hate them, Australia is crawling (well, slithering) with snakes of all kinds – and they’re as fascinating as they are somewhat fearsome.
Snakes have a particular home range within which they spend their life. The most likely time for people to encounter snakes in their garden is spring when the males are passing through as they are out looking for females to mate with. Snakes are also ectothermic (cold-blooded) and rely on the external environment to regulate their body temperature. This is why snakes and other reptiles bask in the sun which is another common occurrence of sightings.
Snakes are attracted to potential food and water sources and safe, quiet places to hide. To reduce the risk of snakes finding your backyard or property attractive, you can keep the grass low, clean up any rubbish piles and clear away objects where snakes may be able to hide. If you are walking your dog close to bushland (especially near water) during the summer months, keep your dog on a lead and avoid long grassy areas. Keeping cats indoors with access to a snake-proof outdoor enclosure is the best way to prevent them from having encounters with snakes.
In the warmer summer months, snakes become much more active and pet owners need to be careful and safeguard their pets from snake bites, plus lookout for the warning signs should an animal be bitten. Dogs will often try to chase or kill snakes resulting in snake bites usually to the dog’s face and legs. Cats, being hunters and chasing anything that moves, are also quite susceptible to snake bites.
The sort of reaction your pet has to a snake bite is determined by a number of factors: the type of snake, the amount of venom injected and the site of the snake bite. Generally the closer the bite is to the heart, the quicker the venom spreads to the rest of the body.
The tiger and brown snake are responsible for most of the snake bites in domestic pets. The tiger snakes have a bite that can be fatal to not only pets but also humans. Brown snake venom is milder than the tiger snakes. These snakes have a toxin that causes paralysis and also have an agent in them that uses up all the clotting factors that help to stop your pet from bleeding. Tiger snakes also have a toxin that breaks down muscle causing damage to the kidneys.
Signs of snake bite include:
- Sudden weakness followed by collapse
- Shaking or twitching of the muscles and difficulty blinking
- Loss of bladder and bowel control
- Dilated pupils
- Blood in urine
If you think your pet has been bitten by a snake you should keep them calm and quiet and take them to a veterinarian immediately. The chances of recovery are much greater if your pet is treated early. Pets left untreated have a much lower survival rate and many die. If your vet is some distance away, you can apply a pressure bandage – a firm bandage over and around the bite site – to help slow the venom spreading to the heart. Do not attempt to wash the wound or apply a tourniquet.
If you can identify the snake, tell your vet what type of snake it is – but don’t try to catch or kill the snake. If it is dead, bring the snake with you, otherwise, there is a blood or urine test that can identify whether your animal has been bitten and the type of snake responsible.
If you see a snake in your garden or house, they do not try to catch or kill the snake. Walk away from it slowly and keep an eye on it from a safe distance (several metres away). Keep your pets safely away from it and the snake will usually move on in its own time. Snakes don’t want to be near humans any more than humans generally want to be near snakes.
If the snake has decided to stay around, and you really want it removed, it is best to contact a licensed snake handler to have it removed. If the snake is inside the house, you can close the door of the room it is in and place a towel under the door to prevent it from exiting before you call.
Whether you love them or they make your skin crawl, snakes play a vital role in the Australian ecosystem and are protected under environmental legislation, so you should not attempt to harm or remove them yourself.
CONTACTS FOR INJURED WILDLIFE:
Australian Capital Territory
- RSPCA ACT on (02) 6287 8100 (business hours) www.rspca-act.org.au
- ACT Wildlife on 0432 300 033 (24 hours) www.actwildlife.net
New South Wales
- WIRES (Wildlife Information Rescue and Education Service) www.wires.org.au on 1300 094 737
- Sydney Metropolitan Wildlife Services www.sydneywildlife.org.au on (02) 9413 4300
- Wildlife Rescue Inc www.wildliferescue.net.au on 1300 596 457
- Contact www.wildcarent.org.au or www.darwin.nt.gov.au
- Contact RSPCA Queensland or the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service on 1300 130 372
- Contact RSPCA SA on 1300 477 722 or www.faunarescue.org.au
- Contact the Wildlife Management Branch on 1300 827 727 or visit dpipwe.tas.gov.au/wildlife-management/management-of-wildlife.
- Contact Wildlife Victoria on 03 8400 7300 www.wildlifevictoria.org.au
- Contact Wildcare on 08 9474 9055 http://www.dpaw.wa.gov.au/
Cert II AS, Cert IV VN
RVN (Registered Veterinary Nurse).