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How to recognise an adder bite

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Watch out, there are adders about!

Adders are the only venomous species of snake found in the UK and can be found in fields, rocky hillsides, sand dunes and on the edges of wooded areas. 

They will usually only bite if they feel threatened by an overly curious dog. Bites are quite rare but can be fatal if left untreated. As adders are most active during the months of April to July, we would advise you to be vigilant when walking your dog.


Molly – bitten by an adder on the Mendips 

Beautiful Molly was walking in the Mendips recently when she became suddenly lame on her right forelimb. By the time she arrived at our Midsomer Norton practice her leg had started to swell and it appeared she had 4 puncture marks consistent with an adder bite. 

She was referred to Highcroft Veterinary Hospital where she was treated with anti-venom by our Emergency and Critical Care Specialist, Helen Wilson. This reduced the swelling and made Molly more comfortable. So far Molly is making excellent progress and has been discharged from hospital.


Symptoms of an adder bite

The most common areas a dog may be bitten is on the legs or face. Be aware that if bitten on the face or muzzle, it could affect their breathing. Signs include:

  • Swelling 
  • Puncture wounds 
  • Lameness 
  • Pain
  • Bleeding or bruising
  • Nervous behaviour 

Symptoms usually occur within 2 hours of being bitten.


What to do if your dog is bitten by an adder 

If you suspect your pet has been bitten, try to keep them still and quiet. Limiting walking or movement should slow the spread of the venom around the body. Do not try to put any kind of tourniquet on your dog. 

Call your vet as soon as possible for appropriate treatment

Not all cases of adder bites require anti-venom. Your vet will be able to advise you if this is needed. Anti-venom can sometimes be difficult to obtain in the UK and is therefore not always available. 

What is important to remember is that up to 97% of bitten dogs make a full recovery with prompt and appropriate treatment. 

About adders

European adders (Vipera berus) are native to the UK and quite common in the South West. They can be recognised by the black/brown zig zag pattern along the length of their back with a V or X shape on the head. Adders are a protected species by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, making it an offence to harm, kill or sell them.



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