As we head into summer, conflict between dogs and snakes is increasing, and we’re set to see more incidents in the next few months. Here are some things you should know about when these two animals come into contact with each other.
Venom in the eyes
The most common incident I see is dogs being spat at by Mozambique Spitting Cobras (MSC).
To me, this cobra’s defense mechanism has to be one of the best of any animal. It’s genius! It basically has its own pepper spray. It spits to blind its attacker, not so that the cobra can then attack its blinded opponent. With the attacker blind, the snake can make a quick and safe getaway. More often than not, thanks to this spitting ability, the cobra does indeed escape the dog/s. Not always though, now and then, I get cases where the cobra has actually been killed.
Dog owners who live in areas frequented by Mozambique Spitting Cobras may come home to find their dogs eyes appearing red and puffy- a sure sign that the dog has been spat at. Or, occasionally, dog owners hear their dogs barking furiously at something in the garden, and then discover the cobra. By that time, its usually too late for the dog.
If your dog has been spat at, immediately flush the venom out of the eyes with water. I find what works best for dogs, is a hosepipe. On low pressure, of course. However, this is easier said than done. Its challenging to keep the dogs eyes open, which you need to do, but that’s the easier of the two challenges to overcome. The main challenge is keeping your dog still! If you have a big Boerbul or similar, I think give up on trying to restrain it, unless your dog is extremely well-behaved. Venom in the eyes feels like having sand mixed with soap in your eyes- it is extremely uncomfortable. The last thing your dog will want to do is sit still. So this rinsing job is generally a two-man job.
It’s very important that you do a thorough job at flushing the dogs eyes out, because if you don’t, the venom can cause permanent damage. I’ve found that many dog owners just aren’t able to restrain the dog and rinse the eyes out, so they usually take it to the vet to get the job done. This is probably the best and safest bet. I do know many people, though, whose dogs often get spat at, who just do it themselves.
Please note that MSC’s can bite, and the bite can potentially be deadly. In fact, it is the snake responsible for the most bites on humans in South Africa each year. Because of this spitting ability, though, they generally don’t need to bite dogs. I’ve never had a case of a dog being bitten by one.
I always hate hearing about dogs who have killed a snake and who have been bitten in return. It’s sad for both animals.
The snake responsible for the most bites on dogs, from my experience here in Durban, is the Rhombic Night Adder. The snake is almost always killed by the dog, but not before it bites back in self-defense. The cytotoxic venom of the Night Adder causes swelling and pain. Death from a Night Adder bite, in dogs, is extremely, extremely rare. I have had three cases where dogs did die. One dog was believed to have built up an allergic reaction to the venom after receiving multiple bites in the past. But as I said, this is extremely rare. Just about all dogs survive Night Adder bites, fortunately.
A snake with similar venom that causes similar effects as the Night Adder, is the Bibron’s Stiletto Snake. They too are responsible for a number of bites on dogs Dogs kill this small snake, which is active in the rainy season, and get bitten. Most bites happen in the mouth or around the jaw, as you’d expect.
If you find that your dog has killed one of these snakes, please monitor your dog for swelling, if you haven’t yet rushed it to the vet. For both species, as well as Puff Adders (which in Durban, are generally found in Outer West areas), the dogs are generally bitten on their head, either around the jaw or on the neck. Your dog will need to be taken to a vet ASAP.
If you find that your dog has killed a Boomslang, I suggest taking the dog to the vet for blood tests. The venom of the Boomslang works slowly, and symptoms may only show hours later. If left untreated, the venom prevents the blood from clotting, and your dog will bleed to death. Blood will appear out of every orifice. Not a nice thought, but that’s what happens. So please, don’t take a chance. Just because Boomslang are back-fanged, doesn’t mean they can’t bite.
The most dangerous bite to a dog, and to a human, is a mamba bite. Each year, I get a couple of calls about dogs who have been bitten by a Black Mamba. What often happens is, the 2-4 dogs on a property corner a Black Mamba, or all bite at it. By the end of the stand-off, we end up with a dead Black Mamba, and dead dogs. It’s my worst call/message to receive. It’s truly tragic.
The potent, fast-acting neurotoxic venom shuts down the dogs body at a rapid rate. It causes nausea and eventually paralysis. From my experience, the dog often doesn’t make it to the vet. Nine times out of ten, dogs don’t make it. But there’s always that chance, and survival is possible, with some luck. The dog will need antivenom though.
Green Mamba bites end with similar results, however, they’re far more rare, due to the species’s limited, coastal distribution and arboreal habits.
If a dog is found dead, a snake is often blamed, with the prime suspect being a mamba. While a mamba bite could be responsible, its not always the case. I was once called out to a house where a German Shepard had died, and a snake was found nearby. The snake was a Herald, and the dog presumably died of heart-attack. Dogs may also die from poisoning by low-life scum. Just FYI.
As you can work out after reading the above, if you suspect your dog has been bitten by a snake, please take your dog to a vet ASAP.
Why no mention of cats? Simply because I never get calls for cats clashing with venomous snakes. Although cats kill snakes frequently, they seem to know which ones to avoid.
PLEASE DO NOT BLAME SNAKES FOR THIS CONFLICT. It really isn’t their fault. A snake knows its limits, its not going to go and attack a dog. They know dogs are dangerous. Unfortunately, when a dog sees a snake, instincts kick in, and they generally attack. It’s not their fault either, really. When a dog goes to attack a snake, the snake, even mambas, will try to flee. But if escape is not an option, it will have to defend itself, and snakes (apart from the MSC) only have one way in doing that. As I always tell people, it genuinely is just an accident. It’s horrible, but it happens. It does not mean you should now kill every snake in sight. That’s not fair, cruel, and damaging to our environment.
Keep your garden as neat and tidy as possible (no, don’t chop down all the trees etc), and don’t waste money on repellents. If you do see a snake in the garden before your dogs do, immediately lock the dogs inside. If you hear your dogs barking and then see them going for a snake, try to call them off. If that doesn’t work, spray them with a hosepipe. You need to get them away from the snake pronto!
I’m doing a study on snake vs dog incidents, by building up a database of statistics. My focus is on the Greater Durban Area. If your dog, or one you hear about, has been spat at or bitten by a snake (touch wood it doesn’t), please let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’re also welcome to call me for assistance 24/7.
I’ve also created a FaceBook group to make reporting easier, and to help people learn more.
In the Greater Durban Area, for reference, the Westville and Hillcrest Veterinary Hospitals are open 24/7 and do treat cases of venom in the eyes and snakebite. Sherwood After Hours Veterinary Clinic has CLOSED DOWN.
072 809 5806