Adder bites in dogs

Adder bites in dogs

Adder bites in dogs are quite rare and whilst we are lucky in Northumberland to be surrounded by beautiful countryside. The wilds of Kielder and Bellingham, to the surrounding areas of Hexham and Stocksfield. Every year, we see an increase in the number of dogs who are bitten by the only venomous snake native to the UK, the European adder (Vipera berus). We are the only vets in Bellingham and one of the only vets in Northumberland to stock Anti-venom.

Adult adders are roughly 50-60cm long and have a black/brown zigzag pattern along their back and V or X shaped marking on the back of the head. Kielder forest and Slaley forest have a known number of adders, and they are of course popular dog walks in Northumberland and Tynedale. Adder bites in dogs happen more than you may think which can be surprising as many of us have never seen an adder before.

Adders are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; this means that it is an offence to kill, harm, injure, sell or trade them.

If you are think that your dog may have been bitten by an adder, please contact us as soon as possible.

Is my dog likely to be bitten?

Whilst it is rare, we see around a dozen or so cases of adder bites in dogs cases every year. Snakes generally only bite in self-defence, so normally bites occur when a snake is stepped on or disturbed by your dog. Puppies and young dogs can be especially curious and can unintentionally provoke an adder into biting. The majority of snake bites in Northumberland seem to occur between April and July, most commonly in the afternoon when the adders are most active.

What are the symptoms of adder bites in dogs?

Adder bites in dogs

Adder bites can result in swelling around the wound, usually within a couple of hours, and this can be severe. You might be able to see the 2 puncture wounds in the centre of the swelling but this is not always possible.

Other than swelling your dog may show others signs of an adder bite, such as;

  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Bruising
  • Lameness and may appear nervous.

If you suspect your dog has been bitten by an adder it is very important that you remain calm and keep them as still and as calm as possible. Venom spreads quicker when a heart rate is increased, so stillness and being calm is very important. 

How serious is adder bites in dogs, and how long will my dog take to recover?

Adder venom when absorbed into the rest of the body can cause a widespread inflammatory reaction leading to symptoms such as fever, lethargy, drooling, increased heart and respiratory rates, vomiting and a wobbly gait. In severe cases animals may collapse, have blood clotting problems, organ failure, tremors or convulsions. Adder bites most commonly occur on a dog’s legs or face. If your dog is bitten on the face, it could lead to swelling of the face and muzzle and may result in breathing difficulties.

The severity of the clinical signs and the speed of recovery can vary and depends on:

  • The speed of veterinary treatment (It is important to tell your vet the bite location if known, how long ago the bite happened, and any changes in your pet)
  • The location of the bite
  • The size of the patient (small patients can be more severely affected)
  • The amount and potency of the venom
  • The amount the patient moves after it’s been bitten
  • Any pre-existing disease within the patient (this may make them more likely to develop severe clinical signs)

We have an emergency out of hours veterinary service and each of our practices stock anti-venom. Please call us immediately if you suspect your dog has been bitten by an adder. 

Are only dogs affected?

No! – Whilst adder bites in dogs is much more common, we do see the occasional cat who has wandered into the path of an adder. So whilst you cannot control where your cat wanders if they are an outdoor feline, but you can follow the same advice as above, and remember as a cat is smaller than most dogs that contacting your vet as soon as possible is very important.