Essex dog walkers urged to beware adders

Adder coiled on the woodland floor

A Basildon vet is urging pet owners to be on their guard after treating a dog badly hurt following an adder bite.

Amy Andrews, vet surgeon at Cherrydown Vets, which is based in Basildon and has practices in Wickford and Stanford Le Hope, issued the warning after treating Toby, a four-year-old Jack Russell.

Toby was out for a walk with his owner in Stanford marshes when he was bitten by an adder, resulting in significant pain and serious swelling.

He was taken to Cherrydown, where Amy treated him and administered anti-venom to calm the swelling after an initial 48-hour period.

Adders, which are the UK’s only native poisonous snake, hibernate over the winter and emerge during the spring. Due to the unseasonably cold weather in March and April, they are now starting the make an appearance slightly later than usual, putting dogs at increased risks.

Cherrydown, which offers 24-hour emergency care, is now stocking costly anti-venom but Amy is urging dog owners to be careful where they let their pets roam during the warmer weather.

She said: “This is the first adder bite case I have treated this year. Adders generally hibernate from October to April, waking up when the weather warms up and they can bask in the sun.

“Unfortunately, Toby unintentionally stumbled upon an adder while out for a walk and was bitten on one of his front legs. Luckily for him, it wasn’t on his face, which could have been much more serious.

“After administering the anti-venom, Toby’s now doing well. His swelling has gone down and his bloods and ECG were fine, so he can go back to enjoying his walks – just hopefully keeping clear of any more adders!

“Adders only tend to bite in self-defence, for instance when they are stepped on accidentally or disturbed by an inquisitive dog, but when they do, bites can be dangerous as they can induce lameness, vomiting and changes to the heartbeat, blood pressure and breathing rate.

“Visually, bites typically result in swelling which is dark in colour and which can quickly become severe. If your dog has been bitten by an adder you should seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.”

Statistics show most adder bite cases survive, with one study suggesting less than one in 20 treated dogs died as a result of a bite.

Boss and the Snake Bite Scare

Boss Wood is a lovely friendly two and a half year old Staffie. Helen Wood and her partner Max look after Boss while their son Gary is at work. Yesterday they took him out for a walk near the fishing lake at Lee Chapel Lane in Basildon. They were walking along a path near the lake with Boss off the lead when suddenly they saw an adder curled up on the path with Boss approaching it. In a split second the snake lunged at Boss but they were initially unaware that Boss had been bitten. They both had mobile phones and took photos of the snake as it disappeared off into undergrowth.


After a few minutes Boss became woozy and they realised he had been bitten. Max picked Boss up & ran a mile or so with him in his arms while Helen ran ahead and got the car. They rushed Boss into us at Cherrydown Vets where our vet Kim Woods saw him immediately. Boss was a bit wobbly and his foot was beginning to swell. Because they had pictures of the snake we were able to confirm it was an adder bite rather than an allergic reaction which can present with similar signs. Boss was put on a drip & given steroids to reduce the inflammation as well as an antihistamine injection to prevent an allergic reaction to the venom. He was also given antibiotics and pain relief to make him more comfortable. Despite this treatment the leg continued to swell above the elbow, so it was decided to give him anti-venom. Anti-venom itself can often make an animal very ill by inducing an adverse reaction so it is only used if an adder bite can be confirmed & the animal does not respond to the initial treatment.

Boss responded well and after staying with us overnight he was sent home on antibiotics. We will however need to see him regularly over the next few days as adder bites can cause tissue necrosis (cell death) in the immediate area surrounding the bite, which may require further antibiotics.

Because Boss was brought in to us so quickly it will reduce the chance of any long term effects from the bite. Adder bites are painful, often cause swelling but in rare instances if left untreated, can result in clotting defects, kidney failure and even death. With the start of the warmer weather dog walkers need to keep an eye out for snakes in the undergrowth or basking on paths. We usually see a few dogs each year that are bitten by snakes and we have a blog on our website for further information and advice

What to do if your dog is bitten by a snake – Click HERE

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The Vet Says…what to do if your dog is bitten by a snake

The good news about snakes is that we only have one native venomous species in the UK – the Adder (Vipera berus). Even better news is that they’re largely elusive creatures who are about as keen on running into you as you are of running into them.

The bad news is that if anything is likely to sniff them out it’s your inquisitive best friend.

Male Adder
A male Adder with its distinctive markings. This one is about to shed (slough) (their eyes aren’t normally blue.)

Before we go on, it’s important to stress that snakes shouldn’t be feared; (a large amount of respect doesn’t go amiss of course); they have a role in the ecosystem, and the chances are you’ve probably walked past scores of them without knowing.

It’s also worth noting that the native British Adder’s numbers are dwindling, hence there are a number of breeding programmes around the country.

Female Adder
Female Adder

Snake bites in dogs are not as rare as you might think; in fact at our surgery we see, on average, a case a week in the warmer months of the year.

…they’re largely elusive creatures who are about as keen on running into you as you are of running into them.

Now, short of curbing your dog’s natural instinct to explore in hedgerows, forests and fields some knowledge of what to look for and what to do will come in handy.

If your dog is bitten he or she will let you know. If you hear a yelp, check them over. You’re looking for two puncture marks about an inch apart. Of course with long haired dogs this is easier said than done.

Facts to bear in mind

*As mentioned, we see an average of one suspected snake bite a week during Spring and Summer.

*High risk times are sunny days when the adders like to bask.

*Classical signs of a suspect bite is a sudden onset and unexplained swelling.

*It goes without saying the experience is painful.

*Sometimes fang bites are evident but not always. They’re often found on the face where the dog investigates, but we also see a lot of bites on the leg area causing acute swelling and lameness.

*The major short term risk is anaphylactic shock and swelling around the head and neck which causes breathing difficulties. Rapid treatment with iv fluids, steroids and antibiotics is needed. In the longer term, the snake bite toxin can cause local tissue necrosis (death) resulting in very serious infections and sloughing of tissue (bits falling off) leaving very large wounds that need surgical reconstruction.

*The dose of toxin compared to the size of the animal often determines whether the bite is fatal. i.e a baby adder biting a Rottweiler is less risky than an adult adder biting a Jack Russell or a cat. Most of the time we have no idea at the time of treatment the dose of venom given.

*Human antivenom is available but there is some evidence that some animals can have an anaphylactic reaction to the antivenom. Also it is much harder to obtain now. We do not routinely use it as our steroid/antiobiotic/iv fluids/24 hour nursing protocol works very well.

*Bites to the head and neck area are more dangerous than limb bites.

*Finally, there is some evidence that in rare cases head bites can cause behavioural changes in dogs possibly due to venom effects on the brain.

*Cats are less likely to encounter snakes as they’re less inquisitive, but due to the venom to weight ratio, bites to a cat should be considered even more serious.

As always if you suspect your dog has been bitten, treat it as an emergency and contact us immediately. Do not attempt to apply a tourniquet or to try and suck out the venom. Well-intentioned first aid attempts can make matters worse.

If you’re after more information on the Adder, this BBC article makes for interesting reading.