I asked Margo to write this article on Adder bites. Because she lives in an area where Adders are prolific and has more experience of them than anyone I know.
Dogs and Adders
by Margo Brothwell
The purpose of this article is to help owners avoid their dogs being bitten and to provide some guidance on what to do if a dog does get bitten.
Identification: Most adders are distinctively marked with a dark zigzag running down the length of the spine and an inverted ‘V’ shape on the neck. Males are generally white or pale grey with a black zigzag. Females are a pale brown with a darker brown zigzag. But some adders can be entirely black and can be mistaken for some other species.
The Adder (Vipera berus) is the only venomous snake native to Britain. Adders have the most highly developed venom injecting mechanism of all snakes, but they are not aggressive animals. Adders will only use their venom as a last means of defence, usually if caught or trodden on. No one has died from adder bite in Britain for over 20 years. With proper treatment, the worst effects in humans are nausea and drowsiness, followed by severe swelling and bruising in the area of the bite.
Adder bite can however have more serious consequences for dogs. The larger breeds of dogs will cope with adder bite much better than their smaller cousins. I know of two dogs here in Suffolk which did not survive – one was a pug and the other a small sprocker. The pug did not survive long enough even to be carried out of the forest back to the car, the sprocker’s owner did not realise the dog had been bitten and veterinary assistance therefore came too late. I know of several larger dogs (Labradors, Huskies and GSD’s) which have been bitten and with prompt veterinary attention have made full and quick recoveries. The danger for larger dogs is if they are unfortunate enough to be ‘reactors’ and go into anaphylactic shock – just as some people react badly to wasp and or bee stings.
I always carry antihistamine tablets with me. If one of my dogs was to be bitten, I would give a tablet immediately, then get to veterinary assistance as quickly as possible. My veterinary practice treats adder bites by administering an injection of steroid to combat the swelling and advises a course of antihistamine over the following three days. They do not stock or administer anti-venom as they have found that dogs can react almost as badly to anti-venom as to the venom itself. Over the years I have had three of my dogs bitten by adders and have followed the above procedure through to a successful outcome. If you are a fair distance away from your vehicle and the dog is light enough, I have been told that it may be a good idea to carry your dog, but in any case you should put a lead on and walk steadily.
Dogs are more likely to come across adders in the spring/early summer. When the snakes have recently emerged from hibernation they will lie out on open paths & tracks to bask in the sunshine. Before they are fully warmed up, they are very slow to move away when they feel the vibration of you and your dog approaching. Dogs spot them and being naturally curious creatures will go to sniff them – the adder is not warm enough to be “up to speed” and to disappear so sees the dog’s approach as a threat and strikes – which is why so many dogs are bitten in the muzzle area.
Adders are relatively common in areas of rough, open countryside and often associated with woodland edge habitats. They are fairly widespread throughout Britain from Devon & Cornwall right up to Northumberland. More information on the species and its locations can be found on www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/Adder