Helping vets save pets

September 21, 2017

University of Melbourne has developed the SnakeMap project, that aims to better predict, prevent, diagnose and treat snakebite in animals as well as people.

University of Melbourne has developed the SnakeMap project, that aims to better predict, prevent, diagnose and treat snakebite in animals as well as people.

The SnakeMap project is the first of its kind in Australia and was devised by emergency and critical care veterinarians Manu Boller and Kylie Kelers from the University of Melbourne’s U-Vet animal hospital.

Dr Boller teamed up with U-Vet Animal Hospital snakebite expert Dr Kelers, along with veterinary emergency and critical care experts from across Australia, epidemiologists and human snakebite experts.

The secure, electronic research database was established to allow veterinary hospitals across Australia to enter their snakebite data.

The data can then be used as a medical resource for vets and, in the future, as a snakebite forecasting system for pet owners and the public anywhere in Australia.

Data collected in the SnakeMap includes information on the bitten animal, the location and time of the snakebite — including exact co-ordinates of the bite if known, the treatment provided, including antivenene administration and breathing support, and the outcome of the treatment.

Dr Boller said due to the exceedingly large number of highly venomous species in Australia, snake envenomation was of unique significance in this country, both in human and veterinary medicine.

‘‘Because of their inquisitive nature, dogs and cats are at particular risk of being bitten, and will succumb to the rapidly-acting potent snake venom if not treated promptly,’’ Dr Boller said.

‘‘Consequently, snakebite is a common emergency presentation of dogs and cats to veterinary clinics throughout Australia.

‘‘With SnakeMap, we now have unprecedented insight into the epidemiological dynamics where the canine and feline snake envenomation events rise in early spring, peak in the summer and recede in the fall.

‘‘From last year’s data, we can already see that most reported snakebites in dogs (73 per cent) occurred in their backyards.

‘‘We knew that dogs are occasionally bitten in ‘their backyard’, but did not expect the extent with which this is happening.

‘‘Cats, on the other hand, are less predictable about the location of the snakebite as they roam more and snakebites are rarely witnessed.’’

During the inaugural 2016-17 season, the SnakeMap project received data from 14 veterinary hospitals in Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and NSW.

For a more comprehensive map, the project encourages veterinary hospitals across the country to join in.

‘‘The SnakeMap project is a not-for-profit, volunteer-based initiative, and we would like to look at it as a veterinary community run initiative, where veterinary hospitals across the country, small and large, are joining in to contribute to new knowledge about a condition that is so unique to Australia and affects so many pets, pet owners and veterinary professionals,’’ Dr Kelers said.

Data collected is available to SnakeMap consortium vets for data analysis for specific research projects with the results being made accessible to the veterinary community via scientific publications.

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