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Adder Bites in Dogs

What are adders and where are they found?

  • The adder is the only venomous snake in the UK.
  • Adders are found throughout the UK and are a protected species so it is illegal to kill or injure them
  • Adders are relatively common in areas of rough, open countryside and are often associated with woodland edge habitats.
  • Adders are timid creatures so will not usually bite unless they feel threatened or cornered and usually try to move away from any perceived threat. This is because they need to conserve their venom for using on their prey species.

Why do dogs get bitten and how can I prevent this?

  •  Dogs will often disturb adders whilst exploring undergrowth which is why they are more likely to be bitten.
  • Most adder encounters occur during their active season between March and October.
  • To try and prevent your dog being bitten by an adder, keep them to paths and under control (preferably on a lead) in areas where adders are known to occur, during March to October.

How will I know if my dog has been bitten?

  • Swelling around the site of the bite this will usually appear within the first couple of hours, you may also see two small puncture wounds in the skin .
  • The pet may be lame, there may also be bruising or bleeding around the area of the bite.
  • If venom is absorbed into the bloodstream this could lead to other signs such as lethargy, drooling, vomiting, diarrhoea and difficulty walking.
  • In some cases pets are more severely affected with breathing problems,convulsions, kidney failure, liver injury and bleeding disorders.

What do I do if my dog is bitten?

  • If your pet is bitten by an adder (or you suspect that it may have been) you should seek prompt veterinary attention.
  • Do not try first aid measures such as sucking out the venom or applying a tourniquet – these procedures are ineffective and may even cause further harm to your pet.
  • Try to keep your pet calm and wherever possible carry your dog rather than let it walk. Both these measures will help slow the spread of venom around the body.
  • With veterinary  treatment most pets will survive but whether they recover and how quickly they recover depends on several factors  -how quickly they receive veterinary attention, the size of the pet- smaller pets are more at risk, where the bite is- facial bites are worse and excessive swelling around the head and neck can cause breathing difficulties, and the strength of venom injected -venom is thought to be more toxic earlier in the year. Elderly pets and those with pre existing medical problems also tend to be more likely to have a poorer prognosis.

What do adders look like?

The adder is easily recognised by a dark ‘zig-zag’ stripe along its back. Background colours vary from grey – white in the male to shades of brown or copper in the female. On occasion, completely black specimens are described. They can grow to around 60cm in length and have a rather stocky appearance.

For further information on adders you can visit website or for an easy identification guide see their excellent snake identification poster.