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.

Field and Game - - VET ADVICE -

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.

First aid

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.

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