Snakes and first aid for pets

When spring and summer is approaching it is a time to keep an eye out for snakes.

During the warmer summer months, snakes become much more active and we all need to be careful and safeguard the animals in our care from snake bites, plus look out for the warning signs should an animal be bitten.

Dogs, being inquisitive creatures, often try to chase or kill snakes resulting in snakebites usually to the dog’s face and legs. Cats, being hunters and chasing anything that moves, can also be quite susceptible to snake bites.

We’ve already had our first experience this year on the farm. Actually it’s the first incident we’ve ever had, but usually I’m not watching carefully or making sure I have boots on rather than thongs before mid summer….not usually before January around here.

The eastern brown snake is considered to be the second most venomous land snake, and is found all the way along the East coast of Australia (✔tick for me…), from the tip of Cape York, along the coasts and inland ranges of Queensland, New South Wales (✔✔), Victoria and South Australia. They are also found in arid areas of the Northern Territory and the far east of the Kimberley in Western Australia. We don’t need to be concerned about the ones in Papua New Guinea – they can’t trouble us from there!

The Eastern Brown snake can be found in a varied range of habitats from dry sclerophyll forests (Eucalypt forests ✔✔✔) and heaths of coastal ranges, through to savannah woodlands, inner grasslands, arid scrublands and cultivated farm land.
Snakes are often attracted to houses and farms (✔✔✔✔✔oh my! Five ticks!) especially chook pens and outbuildings- anywhere that offers shelter and a food opportunity for those pesky rodents. Spilled grain is a classic.


The Eastern Brown snake is active during the day. It is notorious for its lightening speed and capacity to defend its territory when highly agitated.
While most snakes usually flee when confronted, the brown can be highly aggressive and will pursue you, if provoked. Capable of climbing, an Eastern Brown will lift itself off the ground into an upright S-shape just before it strikes (so don’t blink).

Snakes are endemic in rural and farming areas, probably due to the large numbers of associated rodents within the natural environment- if you were a snake this would be the place to raise a family, right?

But don’t get too smug -Eastern Brown, red Bellied Black and Tiger snakes are increasing in number in urban areas, and are now frequently sighted in city suburbs. The suburbs of Brisbane and Sydney have significant populations of brown snakes in particular and they are often seen in suburban backyards searching for rodents. City areas also provide ideal snake shelter in the form of rubbish and other cover.

The main component of their diet may be rodents, particularly introduced house mice but they also find  -chook breeders take note- eggs, chicks, frogs, small birds and even other snakes (gross; but ok by me) quite delectable, not to mention those biscuits you leave out for the cat.

I have been pretty much in denial over the existence of snakes on my place- I have in fact rarely spotted one in person, so until Simba fell victim last week I was no better than a climate change sceptic. In total head-in-the-sand-la-la denial that there are any snakes on my place; but weather I see them or not; weather I face up to the reality and take action or not – they do exist. (Did you see what I did there with ‘weather’……)

This year, snake season is very early- so be aware and learn what to look for- it could save your pets life- or your own.

If you think a snake has bitten your pet, you must keep the animal calm and quiet and take it to a vet immediately. This means you have to also stay calm and rational.

REPEAT!       This is an *emergency* situation, transport your pet to a vet immediately.

The chances of recovery are greater if your pet is treated early (80%) with some pets making a recovery within 48 hours. Simba had a very rocky eighteen hours but then quickly improved. Lucky dog and fortunate me.

Left untreated, domestic pets have a much much lower survival rate and many die.

If your vet is some distance, there are first aid options you can apply.

  • Keep your pet calm and quiet
  • Apply a pressure bandage – a firm bandage or thickly folded cloth pad like a towel over and around the bite site – to help slow the venom spreading to the heart.
  • Do NOT wash the wound or apply a tourniquet.
  • Carry your pet to the car and transport as soon as you possibly can. Do not encourage or allow the animal to walk- this hastens the venom moving through the animals system. (Simba weighs 50 kilos- so this was not an easy thing to do!)  Ring ahead to the vet so they are aware you are coming in and can triage as soon as you arrive.
  • If you have Vitamin C injections on hand, use them. 
    For rural based folk, consider asking your local vet to show you how to administer
    injections and intravenous fluids to your animals. It’s training that can save life
    or animals suffering.


Vitamin C is also a useful first aid option for horses and cattle or other livestock that have tangled with a snake. You can read more about this in any of Pat Coleby’s fabulous books-she’s an Australian icon of understanding rock minerals, soil and pasture health and those organic influences on animal health.

If you can identify the snake tell your veterinarian – but don’t try to catch or kill the snake.
Snakes are protected wildlife, it is illegal to kill a snake in Australia.

If it is already dead, you could bring the snake with you, but a good photo will do.

Identifying the type of snake is important because the treatment varies and the antivenin is different for every snake group.  There is a blood or urine test that can identify whether your animal has been bitten and the type of snake responsible, but again its very costly.

I am super grateful that my vet is so experienced and is not only an active wildcare expert specialising in Australian fauna, but a reptile enthusiast as well. Jan Spate rocks!!!

Once the snake has been identified your vet can administer the correct antivenin.

Please be warned that antivenin is quite expensive and can result in a hefty veterinary bill, so prevention is best. Try and keep your pets as safe as possible.

If you are walking your dog close to bushland – especially near water during the summer months – please keep your dog on a lead and avoid long grassy areas.

Keep the grass low in your backyard/property, clean up any rubbish piles or clear away objects where snakes may be able to hide (wood piles, under sheets of corrugated metal etc.).  Wear your boots on the farm, or at least enclosed shoes and long pants when outdoors.

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