Spring, summer, and early autumn in Australia mean snake season. Snakes come out during the warmer months to hunt, feed, find water, mate, and breed, and it’s very common for them to make their way into backyards where they are less than welcome. This is especially the case for venomous snakes, which Australia has a very large number of. This is in no small part a result of development and suburban sprawl – reptiles lose their homes to people and, being very territorial creatures, have nowhere else to go. Your yard may be their home territory – or they may simply be passing through, looking for water, or a shady place to rest.
Contrary to popular belief (encouraged by the healthy respect or fear most of us have for snakes), snakes tend to generally be timid creatures that want as little to do with us as we do with them. They’ll almost always avoid confrontation with a human or larger animal, and will usually only strike out if they feel threatened, provoked, or are being harmed.
Unfortunately, dogs and cats are naturally curious and will not leave a snake alone if they encounter one (though dogs can be specially trained in snake avoidance). This can be disastrous – for both the snake and also for your pet.
Every pet owner needs to be aware of the risks and able to recognise the signs of snakebite in their dog or cat. You also need to actively safeguard pets from snakes on your property.
Ways to Protect your Pet in Snakey Areas
• Snakes seek out food, water, and safe, secure places to hide. In spring, males in particular are also on the move looking for a mate. Your first priority should be to remove the appeal of your property to snakes. Do this by clearing away all rubbish, keeping your lawn mowed, and by making sure garden beds are tidy, weeded, and not overgrown. Remove access to appealing hiding places like wood piles and places where snakes can squeeze under paving blocks and concrete slabs.
• Dogs and cats can’t really be trained to stay away from snakes unless they are naturally inclined to do so. You need to keep your pets away from snakes as much as possible. 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). Keep cats inside. Make sure there is no room for snakes to squeeze under doors looking for a cool place on a hot day.
• Clear the floor of your garage.
• If you’re dog walking in bushland areas or even a parkland or reserve, keep him on a leash, on the trail, and away from long grass and scrub. Snakes are more and more being sighted in areas with heavy human foot traffic – they may be there even if you don’t see them.
• Be aware that if you live adjacent to a creek or if you have a fish pond, snakes will naturally be attracted to these.
• If you have a snake in your yard, keep an eye on it but don’t approach it. Know that snakes don’t seek out opportunities to attack anything they can’t eat. If your pet poses no risk to the snake, it will leave your pet alone and go on its way.Call your local council for the number of a local snake catcher who will, provided the snake is on your property, come and safely relocate it.
What if My Pet Has Been Bitten?
The signs of snakebite depend on the type of snake. Most dogs and cats which are bitten are bitten in eastern Australia are bitten by Brown Snakes or Tiger Snakes, as these species are more aggressive than many others. These bites can quickly be fatal. It’s worth noting too that a bite earlier in the snake season will frequently be more severe, as venom glands are fuller than later in the season.
Signs of bite include:
• Twitching or shaking
• Dilated pupils
• Sudden weakness and collapse
• Blood in the urine
Keep your pet calm and still, and apply a compression bandage if you know the bite site. Get your pet to a vet immediately. Never wash the area or use a tourniquet.
Never try to kill or catch a snake – it will retreat on its own if your pet hasn’t killed it or caused significant injury to it – but if you can identify it, this will be helpful to the vet.
While Anti-venom can be life-saving if it’s given in time, it is expensive, and there can be ongoing health issues after snakebite.