Snakes sneaking into urban areas

September 20, 2017

Deadly...A captured brown snake.

Lucky boy...Riana Fitzpatrick with Buddy the Maremma, who had undergone surgery.

The warmer weather is likely to see the emergence of more snakes, and rural veterinarians are gearing up for an influx of bitten pets.

A recent survey carried out by University of Melbourne found the most common victims in urban Melbourne were Staffordshire bull terriers and Jack Russells.

Shepparton veterinarian Riana Fitzpatrick agreed the hunting breeds were particularly susceptible and particularly Jack Russells, which have been bred to chase down small prey into holes and nooks.

‘‘Jack Russells will often run after rabbits and animals into the wood heap and down holes,’’ Dr Fitzpatrick said.

Other popular breeds like Labradors also fall victim to brown and tiger snake bites when snuffling in the long grass.

Cats driven by curiosity also find themselves in tangles with snakes, sticking their noses where they shouldn’t, but according to Dr Fitzpatrick, they seem to have a higher survivability level than dogs.

‘‘Most cats given anti-venene will survive, but this of course depends on how much venom has been delivered and how long before it gets treatment.’’

Identifying the offending snake can help with treatment but Dr Fitzpatrick’s Shepparton Veterinary Clinic usually opts to use the multi-valent anti-venene which covers the most common snakes.

‘‘It can be really hard to correctly identify whether it’s a brown or a tiger,’’ Dr Fitzpatrick said.

‘‘They can look similar. Sometimes people bring in the dead snake, but we don’t want anyone bringing in a live one.’’

While many bites are inflicted in backyards Dr Fitzpatrick can recall one occurring in a Shepparton home and has personal experience of snakes intruding into a home.

Several years ago a householder from Orchard Circuit in suburban north Shepparton brought a cat in that had been bitten by a snake that had entered the house.

Dr Fitzpatrick, who lives in a semi-rural village, also had the un-nerving experience of finding a 30cm brown snake near her baby who was sitting on the floor.

A hastily-thrown bread board dispatched the errant reptile and separated the two, but it was a night in hospital under observation for the baby.

Finding the bite marks on a pet can be difficult but the symptoms usually include ataxia, or involuntary muscle movements, vomiting and dilation of the pupils.

‘‘Cats sometimes present as being very floppy, or even paralysed. Seizures are also possible.’’

To prevent bites, Dr Fitzpatrick suggested keeping dogs on a short leash, especially around bush and long grass, and keeping backyards clear of rubbish and grass, which can be favoured habitats for snakes.

Chicken coops are also attractive to snakes who come looking for mice.

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