Snakes Harmful and HarmlessTM

pets and snakes

Dead domestic cat and Western brown snake (Pseudonaja mengdeni). One can assume the cat attacked the snake and killed it before succumbing to the snake's venom.


Dogs come across venomous snakes because of their behaviour as follows:

1. Inquisitive nature or fun in puppies and young dogs. The snake may be no more than a rustle in the grass but the dog can not resist chasing the sound and pouncing up and down in the grass in search of the source, or the snake may be in the open and the dog considers it something to play with. In either case the snake may behave in a defensive way by biting. Although older dogs are similarly at risk, they are often less interested. However the following behavioural trait is more likely to manifest itself in older dogs.

2. Hunting and territorial behaviours are to some extent breed-specific. If a snake moves through the yard these dogs are quick to attack it. In many cases they are successful, however as a dog's reflexes slow down with age there is an increasing likelihood of snakebite.

Cats are natural hunters and often find snakes. A problem to owners of snake-catching cats is their habit of returning to the house with a live snake. Little will discourage cats from hunting snakes.


Enclosures or backyards where dogs are kept in outer suburban and rural areas should be free of long grass and rubbish. This applies for the area surrounding those enclosures also. The addition of a low (to 1 metre) continuous corrugated iron or cement sheet wall around the perimeter of the enclosure will generally exclude snakes. Dry dog food should be stored in such a way as to lessen its availability and attractiveness to mice.

When exercising a dog in bushland during spring, summer and autumn, it is advisable to restrain it on a leash. If the dog is exercised, choose an open area where you can have visual contact with it always.

Dogs are more susceptible to the venoms of snakes than cats. If it involves a large venomous snake then the prognosis is rarely good. Even so, if there are signs of life, with the correct antivenom dogs can make a remarkable recovery. Often it is the case with work-dogs on the farm that death occurs in the vehicle on the way to town.

Initial Symptoms of Snakebite in Dogs & Cats

Your local veterinary surgeon should be aware of the types of snakes found in his district and would generally have access to the antivenoms for these. In humans a swab of the bite-site will allow objective identity of the type of specific antivenom required. The problem in hairy animals is locating the bite-site. However some appreciation of the symptoms can help in identifying the antivenom needed.

In the Perth area two common snakes bite dogs and cats. One is the Dugite or Spotted Brown Snake (Pseudonaja affinis), a very mobile, nomadic snake that has small fangs and small yields of very toxic venom. Often the symptoms are slow in onset and include a progressive paralysis beginning at the back legs and extending forward. It is not uncommon to observe a dog or cat after a bite from a Dugite having problems supporting the hind part of the body. Eventually paralysis becomes total with a lolling of the tongue, non-responsive pupils and laboured breathing. Brown Snake antivenom is used for bites from this species and the Gwardar or Western Brown Snake (P. mengdeni).

The other is the Tiger Snake (Notechis scutatus). Dogs bitten by this species become very agitated immediately after and display hyper-activity for a brief period before collapsing in an unconscious state with lolling tongue and laboured breathing. Although cats may display a similar response they are more likely to seek out a quiet place and rest. They progressively become more lethargic until death or recovery.

Although Death Adders (Acanthophis antarcticus) and Mulga Snakes (Pseudechis australis) are widespread in Australia they are rarely involved locally.

If a bite on a limb is observed apply a pressure bandage to retard absorption of venom. For bites on the body apply local pressure with the hand. If the snake has been found and killed take it with the dog for identification. If the dog is in an advanced state of collapse do not hesitate in getting it to a veterinary surgeon.

2010 - Field Guide to Reptiles and Frogs of the Perth Region

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