Do We Need To Worry About Snake Bites in the UK?
Fortunately here in the UK, we only have one native venomous snake species, the European Adder (Vipera berus). The good news is, that bites from this species of snake are uncommon and rarely causes fatalities.
But should we be concerned about our dogs’ and our own safety when walking in the country? You’ll probably be relived to hear the answer is no.
Over the past 17 years, there have been 985 reports of dogs bitten by venomous snakes in the UK – that averages out at about 1 report every 5 days.
About the Reports
The 985 reports were made by vets, to the Veterinary Poisons Information Service (VPIS). When an owner brings in a dog that has been bitten, the vet will contact the VPIS to receive advice and allow them to record the bite.
The problem with this however is that; not all owners will bring in their dogs if bitten and not all vets use the VPIS. This means the 985 reported cases is actually and underestimate.
When Are Snakes Likely to be a Risk?
There are over 10 million dogs in the UK and considering the average of 1 reported bite every 5 days; it is unlikely you will ever have to worry about snakebites.
There are certain times when you may be more at risk however – the European Adder prefers warmer weather, so bites are most common around April through to July as this is when the snakes emerge from hibernation and mate.
With 2007 and 2009 having the two hottest summers in recent history, a large peak of reported cases was observed during these years.
Adders are most frequently found at warmer coastal regions in the south of England – as such few cases were reported in the north of England.
Are These Snake Bites Dangerous?
There are plenty of countries with native venomous snakes that are more dangerous than the European Adder – Australia for instance is home to three of the most venomous snakes in the world (and plenty of other venomous snakes, not to mention the lethal scorpions and spiders that also live there…).
A bite from a European Adder is rarely fatal, of the 985 reported cases only 16 proved fatal. That is a fatality rate of 1.6%, which will be even lower in reality when taking in to account owners who didn’t take their dog to the vets, or vets who didn’t report the bite to the VPIS because the bite wasn’t serious.
The Effects of a European Adder’s Bite
When bitten, a dog can either be affected only at the site of the bite (locally) or throughout their entire body (systemically), some dogs may be affected both systemically and locally.
Local effects include swelling and inflammation whilst systemic effects can be a bit more severe; tiredness, increased heart rate, increased temperature, salivation, vomiting, mild paralysis.
Recovery typically takes five days.
What to do if Your Dog is Bitten
The point of this article was not to scare, but to show that adder bites in the UK (especially fatal ones) are not common at all. Most dogs will recovery completely from a European Adder bite with nothing but some rest and relaxation, however if you are worried you can visit your vet following a bite. Your vet will be able to provide antivenom and keep an eye on them during their recovery.
Are you one of the 985 that have experienced this first hand? Would you visit your vet if your dog were bitten? Let us know your opinions and thoughts in the comments below!
Adapted from: N. M. Sutton, N. Bates, A. Campbell (2011) Canine adder bites in the UK: a retrospective study of cases reported to the Veterinary Poisons Information Service Veterinary Record Vol. 169 pg. 607