PETS being bitten by snakes is a big problem in Bass Coast.
It’s not unusual for the Wonthaggi Veterinary Clinic to see as many as 10 dogs or cats each week over the summer that have been bitten, or are suspected to have been bitten, by snakes.
Attacks by Tiger snakes or bites from Copper Head snakes are the most prevalent locally, but black snakes are also a consideration.
Last week was no exception with the onset of hot weather bringing about a rush in the number of snake bite victims.
Sadly, some pets don’t survive, however if the problem is recognised soon enough, survival rates are good.
“We’re seeing four-a-week as a minimum. It would be more likely 10-a-week at the moment,” said Wonthaggi vet, Dr David Beischer.
“They start coming in as soon as the weather warms up, from October onwards, and it can continue through to April.
“But, obviously, with the recent burst of hot weather, the snakes are a lot more active.
“We usually get more dogs than cats, because the cats are normally a bit smarter and stay away, but we have been getting a few more cats lately.
“They don’t appear to be random attacks. It’s usually when the animal engages with the snake that they strike.
“Dogs can even get venom in the mouth without the onset of venomisation.
“We rely on a couple of tests to see if venomisation has occurred because snakes can also bite without injecting,” he said.
Wonthaggi Veterinary Clinic has clearly become very adept at dealing with snake-bitten pets. Practice makes perfect.
Their tests are conducted in-house.
“Tiger snake venom can vary in its effect. There can be signs of blood coagulation which we can test for. We can also do a clotting test for signs that levels have increased abnormally.
“That would be the earliest signs of venomisation.
“We can also do a muscle enzyme test within an hour of the pet being bitten.
“We use these two tests as a guide to see if it has happened.”
If there’s a likelihood that the pet has been affected by snake venom, treatment will start immediately with the animal placed on a drip to maintain fluid levels and doses of antivenin commenced.
Wonthaggi Vets keep the main antivenin on hand, covering Tiger and Brown snakes.
“It covers all snakes we are likely to get around here.
“But the pet might require multiple doses,” said Dr Beischer.
And that’s where it can get costly. A single vial of antivenin can cost between $700 and $800 and sometimes as many as three or four have to be administered depending on the size of cat or dog and how much venom has been injected.
When you add the cost of treatment and monitoring, it can be quite a costly exercise.
“With treatment we do get good results but we are aware that it can be expensive.
“We have one fellow at Glen Forbes, the capital of Tiger Snake territory as far as I can see, who even went to the trouble of getting ‘snake aversion treatment’ for his dogs because they were the sorts of dogs that would have a go if they saw a snake.
“I’m not sure how that went but the idea was to train them to stay away from snakes. It could be an option worth pursuing.”
Dr Beischer said that cats could be a bit tricky to diagnose and sometimes they were monitored for 24 hours for signs of symptoms.
But he said the main signs to look out for were a sudden change in the animal’s health.
“If they looked fine and healthy when you saw them in the morning but appeared to have suddenly changed, it may be worth getting them checked.”
Dr Beischer said dogs might be weak in the back legs, either animal might collapse or show signs of weakness, which would be especially a concern if you have seen snakes about.
You are unlikely to see where the dog or cat has been bitten.
One local lady, whose cat was bitten by a snake recently, even had a health scare herself after the frightened cat bit her on the hand while receiving treatment.
Lest she had any referred issues with snake venom, the lady presented at the Wonthaggi ED but all’s well that ends well – the cat survived and so did its owner.
So, summer is snake time in Bass Coast and South Gippsland and there’s little doubt it will pay you to keep a close eye on your pets when they’re out in the open!