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European Adder Dog Bites Snake UK

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.

rattlesnake deadly snake bites dogs
At least we don't have the likes of the Rattlesnake to worry about in the UK...

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.

Your Thoughts

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

About James Watts

BSc Bioveterinary Science. Editor of PetSci. When I'm not writing, learning, discussing, or reading about animals, you know it's the weekend! Currently developing PetSci HealthTrak, the fast and easy way to monitor your pet's weight and calorie intake. HealthTrak offers a simple way to track your pet's progress, helping them achieve a healthy weight and a long, happy life.

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5 comments

  1. Hi I have a holiday cottage in Brittany I worry about my young dog being bitten
    by a snake, is it safer to walk by the canal in area’s which were flooded in the
    recent bad weather, would snake’s survive several feet of water.
    Kind Regards Marion

  2. Hi,

    I live in The New Forest, South UK and have had 2 dogs bitten by Adders.

    The 1st dog was bitten on his front leg, was taken to PDSA who gave him a steroid jab and sent us home. His leg swelled 3x its normal size and he was in pain and sick everytime he moved for about 3 days. I cant remember how long full recovery took.

    My other dog was bitten 3 days ago on her back leg. Took her to emergency vets but unfortunately I couldn’t afford the anti-venom jab or for them to keep her in and monitor her so after some pain relief and anti-sickness jab I brought her home. Leg is very swollen but she hasn’t been sick and is quiet but bright. She hasn’t eaten much, which is to be expected for the first few days.

    Both dogs are quite large, weighing 50k and 45k and bitten on their legs. I think an Adder bite could be dangerous if the bite is in face or neck area or if it is a small dog.

  3. Our dog (kelpie x border collie) was bitten on the foot 8 days ago in our own field, although we didn’t realise what had happened at the time. Our vet failed to diagnose it for 48 hours, despite seeing him 3 times in the period following the bite – the practice had only ever seen one other adder bite, it is not common in this part of north wales! It was only when he clipped the leg and found extensive bruising that he realised what was the cause. Unfortunately, by this time the venom had done a lot of damage. His foot is in a very, very bad way – he has lost the skin, claws and there is some further dead tissue and not surprisingly he is in a lot of pain. He is starting to improve but it is still in the balance whether he will keep the leg.
    Please don’t delay, get your dog to the vet as soon as possible – our dog was relatively young, healthy and fit, it could be a lot worse for a pup, older or smaller dog, or if bitten elsewhere. Every adder bite is different but the consequences can be traumatic or fatal if not treated promptly.

  4. My mother’s rough collie was bitten three times on his back paw by an adder in Brixham, Devon a few years ago. It took a few days for her to realise her dog was ill and she took him to a local vet who found the bites. My mother hadn’t realised her dog had been bitten. Her dog survived but still limps and the vet told her if she had left it a day or two longer her dog would have died. I also know of a spaniel bitten on the face by an adder in the 1990s. He’s owners had him at the vet inside half an hour but he died very quickly. I would be very worried about a pet being bitten by an adder.

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