Summer is soon to be here and reptiles are out and about – so this is a great time to revisit a topic we’ve talked about in the past – safety with regards to your pet and snakes.
Snake season in Australia begins in September and lasts through April. Snakes, including venomous snakes, come out of brumation during the warmer months to hunt, find water, find a mate, and breed. It’s remarkably common for them to make their way into backyards, even in urban areas – and here they are very unwelcome.
I have heard it quoted that, anywhere you happen to be in Australia, you’re within 100m of a snake. (To anyone who is nervous of snakes at the very least, this is not a happy thought!) This is very much a result of development and urban sprawl. Due to human development, reptiles lose their homes and, as they are territorial creatures, have nowhere else to go and move back in once the developers move out. Reptiles also come out of natural bushland seeking water, shade, and food – so your yard may be or become their home territory. They may also use your property as a conduit when passing through.
While they should never be approached, snakes generally tend to be timid creatures and they seek as little to do with us as we do with them. Left alone, and as long as they are not startled or feeling threatened, they’ll usually avoid confrontation with a human or larger animal. Venom is their tool for hunting and defending themselves; they usually only strike out if they are provoked or are being harmed.
Dogs and cats have a natural hunting/playing instinct and unfortunately will rarely leave a snake alone if they encounter one. This can be disastrous whether the snake is venomous or not – for your pet as well as for the reptile.
You need to be aware of the risks and recognise the signs of snakebite in your cat or dog, as well as actively safeguard your pets from snakes on your property.
- Understand that snakes seek food, water, and safe spots to hide. Male snakes are on the move seeking a mate during spring.
- Remove your property’s appeal to snakes.
- Clear all rubbish
- Keep your lawn mowed
- Ensure garden beds are tidy, weeded, and not overgrown
- Remove access to hiding places like woodpiles and where snakes can squeeze under paving blocks and concrete slabs.
- Don’t leave pet food outside
- Note that domestic chickens and caged birds lay eggs and snakes love to eat these
- Keep the area around your doors clear
- Have screens on doors and windows
- Keep your garage tidy with debris off the floor
- Keep cats inside.
- Have a dog run for when you are not home – and use a small gauge snake-proof mesh at its base (dug into the ground and with no gaps).
- Make sure there is no room for snakes to squeeze under doors.
- If you’re walking your dog in the bush or parkland or reserve, keep him on a leash, on the trail, and away from long grass and scrub.
- Be aware that snakes will naturally be attracted creeks, streams, man-made watercourses, and ponds – especially if fish or frogs are present.
If you see a snake in your yard, keep an eye on it but don’t approach it. Call your local council for details of a local snake catcher who can come and safely relocate it. Note that it is illegal to kill or harm a snake. Most people who are bitten are bitten as a direct result of trying to catch or kill a snake.
If Your Pet Has Been Bitten:
The signs of snakebite depend on the species of snake that is responsible. Most domestic pets that are bitten in eastern Australia are victims of Eastern Brown Snakes or Tiger Snakes. These species are far more aggressive than many others (like the Red-Bellied Black Snake, which is generally very reluctant to bite) and their bites can quickly be fatal to both pets and humans.
A snakebite received earlier in the snake season (spring/early summer)may be more severe, as the snake’s venom glands are fuller than they are later in the season.
Canine/Feline signs of snakebite include:
• Twitching or shaking
• Dilated pupils
• Sudden weakness and collapse
• Blood in the urine
If you suspect or know your pet has been bitten:
- Keep him calm and still.
- Apply a compression bandage if you know the bite site.
- Get your pet to a vet immediately.
- DO NOT wash the area.
- Never use a tourniquet.
Never try to kill or catch the snake. If your pet has not killed or significantly harmed it, it will retreat on its own. If you are able to identify it based on sight alone, this will be helpful to the vet. Anti-venom can be life-saving in some cases if it’s given in time.