In short, yes, they can pose a real risk to your four-legged companions. While it is relatively unlikely that you will see a snake while you’re on a leisurely country dog walk, it’s best to be prepared so you can give your dog it’s best chance of recovery.
Dogs are far more likely to encounter snakes than their owners. As they sniff and explore their surroundings they could unwittingly tread on a snake, or even try to become acquainted with the strange hissing thing at their feet. (This is the last thing you want, but some dogs are far too inquisitive for their own good sometimes!)
It is estimated that there are hundreds of snake bites to dogs in the UK each year, with a minority sadly ending in fatalities.
What snakes are venomous in the UK?
There are three snakes native to the UK; the Common Adder, the Grass Snake and the Smooth Snake. All of our native snakes are protected from harm and trade under the Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981.
The only venomous snake in the UK is the Common Adder, also known as Vipera Berus.
While their bite is not normally dangerous to humans, it should be considered a medical emergency if your dog is bitten by one, and you too should seek medical attention if you are bitten.
When are Adders more common?
They tend to come out of hibernation in the Spring and can be seen right up until October. They have been known to come back out of hibernation in particularly warm winter months.
What if there are Adders near me?
The Common Adder is generally found right across the UK, with the exception of the Scottish Isles, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands, Isle of Man and Isles of Scilly.
Some locations where Adders are more common will display signs advising visitors to be careful. Other public sites will not, so dog owners and walkers are advised to be cautious when out in the countryside.
If you are in a particularly common adder location it’s best to keep your dog on their lead to minimise any risk.
Try to avoid over-grown areas and only throw balls or toys into clear areas, avoiding undergrowth as this is more likely to be the perfect habitat.
Adders are normally a shy species, but will attack if they feel threatened, usually if they are stood on, or if your dog is sniffing around in the undergrowth.
Where do Adders live?
Adders love to bask in the sun, so they can be found anywhere where they can take in a few rays. Including woodland (normally on the edge), sand dunes, rocky hillsides, quarries, heathland and hedgerows.
How do I know if my dog is bitten by a snake?
Adder bites are generally really painful, so your dog will likely let you know something is wrong. Bites are identified by their distinctive double puncture wounds and are normally accompanied by rapid swelling around the area.
What if my dog is bitten by a snake?
If you suspect your dog has been bitten, even if you are not sure whether it is by an adder or a non-venomous snake, get them straight to a vet. Don’t allow them to walk as this could cause the venom to spread around their systems more quickly. Carry them to the car and head straight to the vets, calling in advance to let them know you’re on the way.
Try and keep your dog’s wound cool and don’t let them lick the area. If the venom spreads it can quickly lead to fever, vomiting, rapid breathing, increased heart rate and even seizures.
Stay calm and make sure someone is with your dog on the journey to the vet to comfort them, regulate their temperature and minimise the risk of shock.
Vets will treat your dog for shock, administer pain relief, treat the swelling and provide an anti-venom where possible.
What do Adders look like?
While all of the UK snakes are roughly the same length (around 60cm), adders can be identified by their stockier build and distinctive zig-zag shaped markings across their back. They are usually grey, brown or black in colour.