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Protect Your Dog from Snake Bites

Green and yellow snake with mouth wide open showing its fangs
Close to 6,500 pets are bitten by snakes each year in Australia and a venomous snake bite is a life-threatening emergency.

With the onset of
warmer and drier conditions, snakes can catch pets by surprise. At this time of year, even city dogs and cats can have these encounters in local parks, particularly those near bodies of water such as lakes and beaches and snakes can also venture into backyards.

Dr. Robert Johnson, President of the Australian Veterinary Association (AVAexplains "snakes tend to be at their most active at the end of the day. Snake bites tend to occur in the late afternoon or early evening, however it's important for dog owners to remain vigilant throughout the day."

Armed with curiosity and natural hunting instincts it is not uncommon for our four-legged friends to cross paths with a snake. Most snakes will try to avoid you and your pets but while you may simply walk away when you encounter a snake, dogs and cats will often harass the snake and get bitten as a result.


Dogs are inquisitive by nature so use a leash when hiking in bushland (particularly near water) or near beach dunes during the warmer months of the year. 

Labrador Retriever dog and owner on a bushwalk

Do not let your dog dog explore holes or dig under rocks or logs and keep away from high grass and rocks where snakes like to rest.

If you live in the outer suburbs or semi-rural areas, dig your fence a foot into the ground to reduce the risk of snakes gathering on your own property.

Keep your backyard tidy by clearing undergrowth, filling holes in the ground, mowing the lawn, and clearing away toys and tools which all make great hiding places for snakes. Keep walkways clear of brush, flowers and shrubs. Clean up any spilled food, fruit or bird seed, which can attract rodents, and therefore snakes. Store any firewood away from the house.

If you see a snake that sees you, remember that a snake can strike only a distance of half its body length

Give the snake time to just go away and slowly walk back the way you came. Snakes are not looking to interact with people or pets. Do not let your dog examine dead snakes as they still have venomous fangs. If collecting a dead snake always have appropriate gloves. Do not attempt to kill or capture the snake; this is not only dangerous to you, but snakes are a protected species by law.


When a snake bites an animal it injects venom via the fangs into the tissue below the skin. Venom is rapidly absorbed from the site of the bite and carried mainly by the lymphatic system into the animal’s circulation.

Snake venom carries a large range of toxins that damage tissues and impair many of the body’s vital functions. These attack the nervous system and will interfere with the body’s natural clotting mechanisms.


Red belly black snake on the ground by the water
Red Belly Black Snake
Snakes are prevalent in the warmer months (typically October until April). They are frequently seen in areas near a fresh water source such as a creek or dam. 

Australia has a large number of venomous snakes but the most common snakes in Victoria and South Australia are tiger, brown, black, red-bellied black and copperhead

Common Death Adder Snake curled up on dry leaves
Common Death Adder Snake
In the south-eastern area of Queensland, brown and red-bellied black snakes, and occasionally the death adder and small eyed snake, are encountered.

The tiger snake and brown snake (Dugite) account for the majority of snake bites in domestic pets around Perth.

Remember… if your pet is bitten, DO NOT try to catch or kill the snake: all Australian snakes are protected and you may expose yourself to unnecessary danger.


Signs of snake envenomation are seen within 1 to 24 hours after your pet has been bitten. Several factors will determine what sort of reaction your pet has to a snake bite. 

Brown snake with its tongue out
Brown Snake
The type of snake (some species of snake are more venomous than others), the amount of venom injected (depends of the size and maturity of the snake) and the location of the snake bite are all contributing factors.

Dogs and cats are most often bitten around the head and limbs

Usually the closer the bite is to the heart the quicker the venom will be absorbed into the pet’s system and distributed around the body.

At the beginning of summer, when snakes first emerge from hibernation, their venom glands tend to be fuller and their bites at this time are much more severe. The length of time since the snake last struck can also be a contributing factor.

In many cases, the animal collapses or vomits shortly after being bitten. The animal may appear to recover but then signs gradually get worse. Dilated (enlarged) pupils are a common early sign, followed by hind leg weakness that may cause the animal to stagger. Eventually the weakness becomes paralysis and the animal cannot walk or even hold its head up. Breathing becomes rapid and shallow then increasingly difficult and this can lead to coma and death, especially if not treated. Other signs that can be seen include trembling, drooling, depression, bleeding from wounds, blood in the urine or vomit, and pale gums.

Please beware also the red back spider which also causes your dog intense pain at the site of the bite and extreme sensitivity to touch. Other signs include muscular weakness and tremors.


Any snake bite is an emergency. Snakes that aren’t venomous can still inflict painful bites that result in infection.

Unconscious dog lying next to a snake
Remain calm if your pet is bitten by a snake. If your pet has been bitten on the neck remove its collar. 

Keeping your pet as still as possible until reaching a veterinarian is critical to help reduce the movement of the venom from the bite site. Try to keep the bite site below the level of the heart.

Please note that treatment options such as cold packs, ice, tourniquets, alcohol, bleeding the wound and trying to suck out venom should not be attempted in place of getting your pet to the vet — they just waste precious time.

If you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake you should immobilise your pet and try to keep him/her as quiet as possible. It is vital that you take your pet to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. The sooner your pet is treated, the better their chances of survival.

If the veterinarian suspects that a venomous snake is involved, a specific type of antivenom is needed for each type of snake. So it’s important for you to know the type of snake that bit your pet. Being familiar with the snakes that are commonly in your area can help you identify the snake so that your veterinarian can determine the best treatment.

However do not put yourself or others at risk by attempting to identify the snake. Individual species of snake can vary in colour and pattern considerably and are all but impossible to definitively identify other than by experienced snake handlers.


Firstly your veterinarian will examine your pet, assess the clinical sign they are showing and determine the best course of action. Further diagnostic tests may be required to determine if your pet has actually been bitten and sometimes it is useful to identify the type of snake via a snake bite detection kit. 

Older dog on a couch having drip IV therapy

After positive identification the vet will administer anti-venom under close observation. Your dog will then be hospitalised for intensive monitoring and supportive care such as intravenous fluids and pain relief via a drip. Some patients require multiple vials of antivenom.

Other supportive care may also be required - including oxygen supplementation and even breathing for the pet if they are not breathing well on their own. This needs to continue until the circulating antivenom has been neutralised and any bound venom has worn off.

Prognosis can range from extremely guarded to good depending on the speed of treatment being started and the amount of venom injected.

If your pet is given antivenene for a snakebite, it is only being used to neutralise the snake venom in your pet's system at that time. It does not protect your pet in future from further envenomation from a snake. Antivenene is not a vaccination or a preventative medication.


With antivenom treatment 91% of cats and 75% of dogs will survive if treated quickly. The survival rate is much lower however for pets that are left untreated, and death can occur.

Recovery from a snake bite usually takes 1-2 days if the pet receives prompt veterinary attention and the snake bite is not severe. However, severely envenomated animals may still take weeks to return to full health due to tissue damage to internal organs and they will require intensive and prolonged nursing care.

Remember... if your pet is bitten DO NOT try to catch or kill the snake as all Australian snakes are protected and you may expose yourself to unnecessary danger.

If you find a snake in your home, you can contact WIRES and hospitals also keep a list of snake catchers. The snake catchers are independent volunteers who provide a safety-related service for the public and a welfare-related service for native fauna.

WIRES is a volunteer organisation with trained reptile handlers however their priority is to respond to situations where reptiles are injured. They can however give advice to callers on steps they can take to safely encourage the snake to relocate elsewhere.


The information in this blog does not constitute advice. If you need advice about your pet, consult a veterinarian or a qualified animal behaviourist or dog trainer, as appropriate.

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