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Has your dog been bitten by a snake? What is he at risk, and what are the first steps to take?
Snakebite: is it serious?
A snake bite could be serious for your dog if the snake in question was a poisonous snake. In mainland France, only vipers are poisonous.
There are mainly two species:
the asp viper (Vipera asp) found mainly in the south of France and at altitude up to 3000m,
An asp viper (1)
the period viper (Vipera berus) found north of the Loire, in the Massif Central, Jura, Doubs and in the Alps. She particularly enjoys streams and marshy areas.
A period viper (2)
More rarely, we can also meet:
the Orsini viper (Vipera ursinii) in the mountainous areas of Mont Ventoux, in the Lubéron and the Maritime Alps, but this species is endangered.
An Orsini viper (3)
the Séoane viper (Vipera seoanei) in the Pyrenees and the Basque Country.
A Séoane viper (4)
You can recognize vipers by:
their relatively small size compared to snakes. Adult, the viper generally does not exceed 80cm.
Their triangular head with an upturned nose,
their eyes with a vertical slit pupil that resembles that of a cat,
the presence of multiple small scales on the head forming several rows between the eye and the mouth (where the snakes have only one row).
Asp Viper’s Eye (5)
The risk when a dog is bitten by a viper is envenomation, which is the entry of its venom into the dog’s body. The venom of vipers contains around 100 different active substances, including:
toxins responsible for tissue necrosis and nervous disorders,
enzymes responsible for inflammation, bleeding disorders and which facilitate the spread of the venom to the whole body.
In dogs, envenomation can be the cause of the onset of general signs and lead to respiratory problems or potentially fatal multi-organ failures.
Fortunately, the bite of a poisonous snake is not always followed by envenomation because the snake’s poison glands may be empty. It is also possible that the snake will bite without injecting venom. These so-called “white” bites or “dry” occur when the snake bites only to defend itself, when “its victim” is too big to eat. This is a way for him to save his venom for the benefit of prey that he will be able to eat.
Very exceptionally, the envenomation of a dog can also occur following a bite by a Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulana).
Non-venomous snakebite: what’s the risk?
In the event of a snake bite, it is always difficult to identify whether the species involved was poisonous or not, and medical precautions should be taken without questioning. This is especially true as non-venomous snakebites, if not followed by envenomation, can nevertheless be complicated by infection of the bite wound. They are therefore also to be taken very seriously.
How to recognize a viper bite in a dog?
The first sign of a snake bite is the animal fleeing accompanied by cries of pain during a walk or during a hunting action. But, since a snake bite usually happens very quickly and you may not have witnessed the accident, or the snake may have already fled when you arrive at the scene.
To know if your dog has been bitten by a snake, there are several signs of being aware of, such as:
The location of the bite. While a snake is likely to bite all parts of your animal’s body, however, the bites most often occur on the nose, face, lips or even on the front legs.
Severe pain at the bite point where the mark of the hooks is usually visible as one or two small red dots 0.5 to 1 cm apart. In long-haired dogs, these spots are only visible after the affected area has been mowed by a veterinarian.
The rapid swelling (20-30 minutes after the bite) of the bitten part.
Vipers are likely to bite year-round, although the bites usually occur from March through October.
The dog was bitten by a viper: the symptoms.
The composition of the venom is different between two snakes of the same species or the same region, so that the symptoms may vary depending on the nature of this venom.
However, in the case of a viper bite, there is usually severe pain at the bite site followed by the onset of local symptoms within 20 to 30 minutes, such as the development of oedema (swelling), redness, and pain. ‘hematoma.
General signs can then appear within 30 minutes to 3 hours of the bite:
depression and fever,
vomiting and diarrhoea,
respiratory distress,
heart rhythm disturbances and hypotension,
neuro-muscular signs: contractures, convulsions, ataxia, paralysis.
Complications can appear up to 8 days after envenomation and may include:
coagulation disorders causing epistaxis, petechiae, presence in blood in the urine or blood in the stool, disseminated intravascular coagulation,
massive hemolysis (destruction of red blood cells),
acute kidney failure,
a multi-organ failure.
My dog ​​was bitten by a viper: how to react?
If your dog has been bitten by a snake, contact your veterinarian or the on-call veterinary clinic immediately to get your pet there as soon as possible. The faster you act, the less time the venom will have had to diffuse into the dog’s body.
In the meantime, keep calm and avoid any physical exertion on your dog that would increase his blood flow and spread the venom more quickly throughout his body. Carry your pet to move it from point to point and keep it calm.
If you can, cool the bite point with cold water, a very cold water compress, or an ice pack (no ice on the skin). This will have the effect of limiting the inflammation and the pain associated with it, as well as slowing the diffusion of the venom in the body while awaiting treatment by the veterinarian.
Do not especially do
Incise the wound, aspirate the venom with the mouth or with an Aspivenin, put in place a tourniquet. These snakebite actions are unnecessary at best and dangerous for your pet at worst!
Also, if possible, try to identify the species of snake that bit your pet to help the vet diagnose it without endangering yourself by getting too close. It is best to take a photo of the snake in question if your smartphone is handy.
Upon arrival at the clinic or office, the veterinarian will mow the bite point and disinfect it. He will then initiate symptomatic treatment and, if necessary, perform examinations to assess, in particular, the animal’s clotting capacity, anaemia caused by envenomation and renal function.
Sometimes hospitalization may be necessary depending on the condition of the animal or its risk factors (young dog, small dog, sick and elderly animals).


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