Posted By: Josh - Vet

Adders: The dangerous snakes of spring

With spring now upon us the weather is beginning to brighten, flowers are beginning to bloom, and dog walkers are out in force. Despite the many benefits of spring it also brings its own set of considerations for our patients here at Shepton vets, and not just the increases in tick and worm burdens.

Adders are the only venomous snakes present in Britain and bites are becoming increasingly common, generally occurring from the start of spring (once the adder has come out of hibernation) through to mid-late autumn. Adders themselves are often timid and non-aggressive animals but sometimes the curiosity of our pets can cause them to feel threatened. Most cases of adder bites occur on the face or front legs of our inquisitive animals and those earlier in the year are thought to be more severe as the Adder venom is more potent.

If you suspect or have seen your pet being bitten by an adder the first important thing to remember is to keep calm. Whilst it can be fatal, given the right treatment over 95% will make a full recovery within 5 days. You should ring your veterinarian immediately as speed is often important in these cases and the bitten animal should be kept as still and calm as possible, with movement of the affected area minimised. The venom of adders contains a complex combination of enzymes which will initially cause a local reaction at the site of the bite i.e. a painful red swelling.

Sometimes this is all that happens, however in a large number of cases more general systemic signs such as depression and lethargy are seen when the venom gets into the bloodstream. The most severe signs are less common and depend on a number of factors (site of the bite, potency of the venom, size of the patient etc…) but can include breathing difficultly, collapse, fits, bleeding disorders and possible organ failure. It is important to reiterate that if veterinary advice is sought quickly, your animal is highly likely to make a full recovery.

Treatment will depend on the signs your animal exhibits but will often consist of maintaining good blood circulation and organ function, reducing swelling and pain, and preventing any secondary infections. This is achieved through IV fluid therapy (a drip), pain relief and antibiotic medication. Anti-venom may be used in the more severe cases but when unavailable steroids are an alternative to try and reduce the body’s large inflammatory response. Following treatment patients are monitored and discharged when the more generalised systemic signs have resolved; the swelling may take a several days to diminish, which can be managed with medications at home.

Adders are often found at the edge of woodlands and in areas of rough open countryside and so the best prevention is to avoid these areas; unfortunately these are often some of the best areas to take our dogs for a walk! So if you suspect your animal has suffered an adder bite don’t panic, ring your vet immediately and you will more than likely have a happy outcome.

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