Adder Bites

There are a few different snakes found in the UK, but the European Adder is the only one that is venomous and that is a potential danger to your dog.

Are all snakes a danger to my dog?

No, there are three species of snake found in the UK, these are grass snakes, adders and smooth snakes. Of these, only the adder is venomous and a danger to dogs.

Adders are generally more active in the spring and early summer; having just come out of hibernation, their venom is more potent. At this time, they are also hungrier and more likely to bite.

Adders are not known for their aggression, they will only bite in self-defence and this can be a problem for curious dogs that come across them when they are bounding about.

What does an adder look like?

The adder is grey in colour and has a dark zig-zag pattern down its back, and a red eye. An adult adder can grow to around 60 to 80cm and they are often referred to as stocky.

Adders love the sun and can often be spotted basking in the sun in woodland, heathland and moors. They can be found across the UK; they tend to be more common in South-West England and Scotland.

What are the signs of an adder bite?

The most common place for an adder to bite a dog is the face or the legs. If your dog is bitten, you will usually notice an immediate swelling. If you look carefully, you may be able to spot two small puncture wounds at the centre of the bite.
The swelling can quickly become severe, especially if the dog has an allergic reaction to the venom, this can result in breathing issues. Other signs could include lameness, bleeding and bruising, howling (in pain) and your dog may appear very nervous.
If you suspect that your dog has been bitten by an adder, you should take them to your vet immediately.
An untreated adder bite can result in a dog becoming dehydrated, having tremors as the venom spreads around a dog’s body, and can progress to organ damage if the reaction is severe enough. Quick response and treatment are key.

What should I do?

Take your dog to a vet immediately. If possible, you should carry your dog; this will help to prevent the venom from circulating further around their body. You can bathe the wound in cold water. Keep your dog warm and as calm and still as possible, again this is to prevent the venom from spreading.
If, after a walk, you believe your dog may have been bitten by an adder, you should speak to your vet immediately.

What else do I need to know?

  1. Adder bites can be severe but are rarely fatal in dogs. However, they can make a dog very ill and should be treated as an emergency.
  2. Your vet will likely treat your dog for shock, administer pain relief and antihistamine for the swelling.
  3. A small dog may be affected more than a larger dog. The amount that the dog has moved after being bitten will also make a difference, as will the location of the bite. Speed is of the essence, get your dog to your vet as quickly as possible.
  4. Adders are protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981. It is illegal to kill or harm them. Naturally shy creatures, they are best left alone, and they’ll do no harm.
  5. Anti-venom is an effective way to treat severe snake bites, it binds itself to the venom, so that it becomes inactive.

If you believe your dog has been bitten by an adder, please contact your vet immediately.

For advice on the health of your pet, speak to your local Medivet practice.

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