This time of year always keeps veterinarians busy with snake bite cases. The main offender appears to be The Brown Snake but occasionally we see other cases of animal affected by snakes.
As snakes are cold-blooded – they hibernate in winter but are very active during the other months of the year.
In our very hot months here in Bundaberg, Qld, snakes tend to hide during the heat of the day but become active in the cool of the evening and nights as well as the early morning.
It is amazing where they will live and how they can curl up in areas that would normally be too small for their bodies. I personally have seen a 2-meter snake live in a hole left after I removed a small fence post from my family property.
As a general rule snakes are very wary of other animals including humans, but if they are attacked or feel that they are cornered then they can turn aggressive. It is always best to leave them alone if possible and not try to be a hero and attack them.
In fact, snakes are a protected species in Australia and you are only allowed to kill a snake if you are under threat of attack (it always seems amazing to me the number of people I know that have been attacked by a snake whilst driving their car on a country road).
People often believe what they read in novels – that is, once an animal has been bitten, then it only has minutes to live and the animal has enough time to stand on its back legs, grasp its neck with both paws and pirouette three times before falling down dead while singing ‘Old Lang Sine’
The reality is that an animal is bitten by a brown snake usually has two syndromes that can occur. Some animals will collapse within a few minutes and may even fit, but then they recover and appear normal for a few hours afterwards – in fact it is very common for this period to last 12 hours.
This is the period that you may become complacent and assume that the snake is may not have been poisonous and that the animal is fine.
Then, the animal goes into the second stage – it collapses and flaccidly paralyzed. Over a period of hours the animal goes into respiratory or cardiac arrest and then sadly dies. It is during this period most of the owners present their animal to our hospital – both owner and animal are now obviously in a state of distress.
Even at this stage, all is not lost – we have been able to save 90% of snake bites but there is no doubt that the later we start treatment the more expensive it becomes.
My recommendation to all owners – if you think your animal has been bitten by a snake then I would recommend that you instigate treatment as soon as possible. The earlier you start the greater the chance of success and the less expensive it is