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Common European Adder Bites in Dogs

The only venomous snake in the UK is the Common European Adder (Vipera berus). It is not considered to be a particularly dangerous snake. Dogs are the animals most commonly bitten by these snakes; although the bites are painful they are rarely fatal. Adders are a protected species and should not be harmed.

The Common European Adder is fairly widespread throughout the UK. It can be found in a variety of habitats including woodland areas, moors, heathland, meadows, coastal dunes, hedgerows, and the banks of streams, lakes and ponds. The individual appearance of adders is variable but they can usually be identified by the dark V or X shape on the back of the head. Most adders also have a zig-zag pattern on their back which runs all the way along the body as far as the tail. Adders are quite timid in nature and will not usually bite unless they feel threatened or cornered.

Dogs are relatively frequent victims of adder bites due to their nature of exploring undergrowth and their general inquisitiveness. Adder bites often occur when a dog is out on a walk and exploring the areas where snakes are basking in the sun. This makes them likely to disturb the snakes, either accidentally or due to their investigative actions. Dogs are frequently bitten on the face and limbs but bites can occur on any part of the body. Most snake bites tend to occur between March and October when the snakes are more active due to the warm weather.

If your pet is bitten by an adder (or you suspect that it may have been) you should seek prompt veterinary attention. Do not attempt 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.

The severity of signs seen in animals as a result of snake bites is variable and depends upon several factors; these include the site of the bite and the size of the animal (smaller animals being at more risk of severe problems due to the relative dose of venom to their bodyweight). Most adder bites result in pain and inflammation, but are not usually fatal. However, if your pet is bitten by an adder it should be considered to be an emergency and prompt veterinary attention should be sought, since in severe cases dogs may sometimes collapse and die following an adder bite.

The most effective treatment for adder bites is anti-venom; vets may be able to obtain this from the local hospital if required. Supportive treatment such as anti-inflammatory drugs, i/v fluids and antibiotics may also be given as and when they are needed by affected dogs.

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