Danger is lurking
We had a great question from a reader last month regarding the value of teaching your dog the ‘leave it’ command. This time of year it may prove particularly useful and I’ll explain why in a little bit.
At home, if your dog understands this command it means you can teach food refusal (reducing the risk of baiting), encouraging them to leave the kids’ toys alone or your favourite shoes, and most importantly, so that beautiful venison backstrap remains on the kitchen bench.
In the hunting game though, teaching to ‘leave it’ has an abundance of other applications.
Whether retrieving or stalking, there are certainly situations where this will come in handy. If you are running a pack though, individual team members will rarely stop for the odd, old ‘fragrant’ carcass for it to be of concern. They are too busy on the tail of the next target.
Some foraging is normal and dogs will often eat grass to purge their stomachs when out on a hunt. As athletes, they can maintain longer duration of activity when not carrying around a full bladder and a gut full of unnecessary weight.
Picking up tempting carcasses is another story. The risk of parasitic infections such as hydatids, stomach upsets from rotting meat, botulism, or contacting a dead fox or wombat covered in mange. If your dog understands the ‘leave it’ command, you have the potential to avoid these issues.
At this time of year though, this command comes into its own when there are snakes around: ‘leave it’ is now a lifesaver for your best mate and your wallet.
Just in case you do come across a snake though, or you think your dog might have been bitten, this article also presents the perfect opportunity to learn tips on what to do, the symptoms, and what to expect from your vet.
Armed with curiosity and natural hunting instincts, dogs naturally want to check out a snake that crosses their path.
Australia has a large number of venomous snakes but the tiger snake and brown snake account for the majority of snake bites.
If you suspect a bite, immobilise your pet and try to keep them as quiet as possible and get to a veterinarian as quickly as possible. The sooner your pet is treated, the better their chances of survival. If you can identify where the dog was bitten and it is on the forelegs then you can apply firm compression dressings to slow the spread of the venom (do not apply a tourniquet as this will cut off blood supply and venom does not travel that way from the bite site).
In all my years in practice I have only been able to identify the bite site a handful of times, so don’t waste time looking, get on your way. Do not put yourself or others at risk by attempting to catch or identify the snake; most antivenom is polyvalent, meaning it covers more than one species of snake. Your vet may also have a venom detection test kit.
Signs of snake bite
The type of snake will determine the types of venom factors present and the symptoms you see. They can be neurotoxic (cause paralysis), anticoagulant/ coagulant (cause bleeding by either destroying or consuming blood clotting factors), myotoxic (damages muscle), and haemotoxic (destroys red blood cells).
Wherever you are hunting, understand the common species in that area and the venom factors they carry. This will arm you with the symptoms you can expect to see in the unfortunate event your dog is bitten.
Your dog may show some or all of the following signs: drooling, vomiting, sudden weakness, staggering as though drunk, followed by collapse, shaking or twitching of the muscles, dilated pupils not responsive to light, blood in the urine and, in the latter stages, paralysis and respiratory failure.
What to expect at the vets
Firstly, your vet will examine your pet, assess the clinical signs and determine the best course of action. Further diagnostic tests may be required to determine if your pet has actually been bitten and sometimes it is useful to identify the type of snake via a snake bite detection kit.
Veterinary treatment varies with each individual case: how severe the symptoms are and how rapidly the symptoms progress.
Treatment usually consists of intravenous fluids and pre-medication to reduce the risk of an allergic reaction to the antivenom. This will follow with the administration of antivenom but the speed and dilution depends on the weight of the dog.
This is the hardest part, waiting for antivenom to be administered and hoping that your mate has the strength to hang on.
Some patients require multiple vials, brown snakes rarely require more than two vials but I had one labrador vs tiger snake that required four vials and resuscitation over eight hours.
Other supportive care may also be required — including oxygen supplementation and even breathing for the pet. This needs to continue until the circulating antivenom has been neutralised, which can take a couple of days, and your pet may be weak for some time while the body sets about repairing itself.
Approximately 80 per cent of pets survive snake bites if treated quickly. The survival rate is much lower, however, for pets left untreated or if treatment is delayed through to the paralysis stage.
Initial recovery from a snake bite usually takes 24 to 48 hours if the pet receives prompt veterinary attention and the bite is not severe. However, some pets will take substantially longer to make a full recovery due to tissue damage to internal organs and will require intensive and prolonged nursing care.
Facts and Myths
• Sucking out the venom or washing the wound does not work and may interfere with diagnosis using a venom detection kit. • Most of the intravenous vitamin C study was done on humans in the 1930s. It will not stop your dog requiring treatment, but may reduce some of the toxic side effects and is commonly used as an additive to the antivenom. As a single treatment, it would not prevent the dog becoming paralysed from the snake bite. • The great advantage of vitamin C is that anaphylaxis (sudden allergic reactions) does not occur and the variety of snake does not matter. Vitamin C is cheap, easy to store and take on a hunting trip; 10–15 ml in the muscle, or IV if you are skilled, will do no harm and may just help. If you are away from immediate veterinary treatment it’s worth a try in my book. • A dog bitten by a snake or numerous snakes in its lifetime won’t routinely suffer chronic kidney problems; if treatment is prompt, there will be minimal long-term effects.