Ask the Vet
The risk of adder bites
Question: My dog was recently bitten by an Adder whilst out on a walk. Thankfully prompt veterinary treatment saved his life. Are adder bites common in this area? I hope this question might improve general awareness of this frightening and distressing risk.
Answer: I am glad to say that we see no more than a handful of adder bites each year. As it happens, however, we have seen two confirmed cases within the last two months where the owner has in fact seen the adder just prior to their dog being bitten. The adder is well known as Britain’s only venomous snake, is typically up to 65cm long and is easily identified by a dark zigzag line passing along the back bordered by rows of spots. Males are greyish, whereas females are typically a brownish or reddish colour. The Adder hibernates from October until March, when it will re-emerge, seeking out sunny places where it can bask and dense cover in which to take shelter. These snakes are very placid and retiring creatures. They are not aggressive and rarely bite domestic animals, preferring to retreat into thick vegetation instead.
Adder bites are sometimes though rarely fatal to pets. Recent evidence suggests that the venom is more potent during March/April after the animals leave hibernation, so extra caution should be taken when walking dogs at this time. Wear suitable footwear, keep dogs on leads and take care when sitting down in areas where Adders are known to occur. Recent instances have occurred in places as diverse as Clymping, Salvington and Bury. It should be mentioned that many bites are warning ‘dry bites’ without injection of venom, and, on top of that, most pets when bitten will draw back from their attacker thus minimising contact time for venom injection. Always seek veterinary attention immediately. Do not attempt any form of first aid. The only helpful action is to stop exercising your pet and keep your pet calm, whilst medical attention is sought. Symptoms such as painful swelling, vomiting and loss of mobility of the affected limb are common following the bite. By following the appropriate treatment protocol of administering Adder Anti-Venom, intravenous fluids, as well as anti-inflammatories and antibiotics, we have never seen a fatality. If it can be used as a measure of potency, only 14 people died from Adder bites last century, the last being in 1975.