Adder bite! - Morris and Plumley

Adder bite!

  • 31 July 2017

Clear blue skies, baking July sunshine, you might think there is no better place to be than with your dog, in the wilds of Northumberland, on top of the Simonside and away from it all. Of course, you’d be right, though there is a potential downside, in the form of Britain’s only venomous snake.

Depending on whom you listen to, adder sightings are pretty rare, though anyone regularly walking in the hills in the summer will tell you that there are plenty of snakes about. On hot days, they love to lie on rocks basking in the sun.

In truth, they are fairly wary creatures that tend to shy away from contact with humans and more significantly, their pets, however, every now and then the two meet, with potentially disastrous consequences.

And so it was for a young Jack Russell terrier, Scout, the weekend before last. I got the call about 3pm on the Sunday afternoon.

“Dom, Scout’s been bitten by an adder and now she can’t walk.”

A few questions later and I’d ascertained that she was fine in herself but had been bitten on the back leg – “Get her to us as quick as you can.”

Over the years of vetting in Northumberland, I’ve seen many adder bite casualties and though some have been pretty poorly at the time and others have had some nasty skin lesions develop in the aftermath – it is very unusual to have a fatality. For a while, there was a treatment available that was marketed as an “experimental antidote” – however, retrospective studies suggested the patients prognosis deteriorated when it was used. Thankfully I never had call to use it.

In fact, particularly with respect to bites to dogs, venom levels are generally low, with the snake “strike” more a warning than an attempt to kill. The result is that generally the victim experiences severe local swelling and pain, but often without major systemic effects.

Treatment revolves around the use of anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the progress of tissue damage and protect against systemic shock and antibiotics to limit secondary bacterial infections. Of course, occasionally the patient may already have developed shock, in which case intravenous fluids and more intensive treatment is required.

Thankfully, Scout arrived looking a little subdued, with a swollen hind leg but without any evidence of problems with her cardiovascular system. After some treatment in the surgery, her owner was happy to watch her closely at home with clear instruction to bring her back should her condition deteriorate.

In fact, that evening she picked up and was eating and drinking, though it did take a couple of days for the swelling to recede. Thankfully, there was no local tissue damage caused and by the following weekend she gave no hint of her ordeal. However, walks on the Simonside have been postponed until the late Autumn when the adders go back into hibernation.