Adder bites on dogs

25 March 2024 - 4 min read
Image of an adder in the grass

Adders may not be common across Britain, but they are relatively populous in some areas, particularly in very rural locales. 

The population is in decline, with around 2,500 in Britain. However, seeing as they’re densely populated in 260 sites, mostly in Scotland, West Wales and Southern areas of England, you can see them. As a result of this, adders can be a potential health risk to your inquisitive dog.

The good news? Bites are rare, and adder bite deaths are incredibly rare. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared, as adder bites are still a worry for dogs and almost always require prompt medical attention.      

Below, we discuss adder bite symptoms, what to do if your dog has one, how they’re treated and how you can prevent them. 

Adder bite in dogs: the symptoms

If your dog is bitten, symptoms can develop very quickly (usually within two hours). Common symptoms include:

● Painful swelling (most commonly on the face or front legs)

● Pale pink or white gums

● Excessive salivation 

● Vomiting 

● Diarrhoea 

● Limping (for leg bites)

● Sudden lethargy or nervousness 

● Hyperthermia (may feel hot to the touch)

● Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)     

Some dogs will deteriorate quickly and develop serious conditions like kidney failure and bleeding disorders if left untreated. If bitten, you must rapidly take them to a vet. 

Deaths are rare and more common in smaller dogs who don’t get treatment. A 2011 study showed that 97% of bitten dogs developed symptoms while deaths accounted for 4.6% of all cases.

If you suspect your dog has been bitten by any snake, you must take them to a vet as soon as possible.

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What do adders look like?

Adders are either grey or brown, with a zig-zag pattern on their backs. But some are all-black, though these are rarer. 

They’re small - between 23 and 31 inches. This can make them very hard to spot in long grass.  

Generally, avoid any snake you see, even if it doesn’t match the above description. 

What does an adder bite look like?

It depends on how deep the bite is. Shallow bites may not leave a mark, while deeper bites often look like the stereotypical snake calling sign: two evenly spaced tooth marks. 

However, bitten dogs will usually show other signs as well. As bite wounds aren’t always visible, it’s better to look for any of the symptoms listed above.   

Just because you can’t see the bite site doesn’t mean your dog isn't bitten.

What should I do if my dog’s bitten?

You must see a vet immediately. You can’t treat this issue at home - it can make things worse. 

In the meantime, you should try to keep your dog as calm and as still as possible. This will help to slow the spread of snake venom through their body before they reach the vets.

Adder bite treatment

Treatments will commonly rely on one or a mix of: 

● Fluid drip (this helps with shock and supports organ function)

● Strong pain relief 

● Anti-inflammatory drugs

● Antibiotics (if a secondary infection develops)

● Antivenom (in severe cases)

Alongside this, a vet may want to take your dog in for monitoring, including blood tests and ECGs. This may involve leaving them at the vets overnight or for an extended period.

How common are adder bites in dogs?

As mentioned, they’re rare. Snakes only really bite in self-defence, especially in smaller snakes like adders. They’ll only bite your dog if they’re disturbed, and they’ll usually give people and dogs a wide berth. 

Of course, your dog doesn’t know that. 

How to prevent adder bites

2011 study concluded that adder bites in dogs were most common between April and July, occurred more often in the afternoon, and that South East England had the most reported bites at the time.      

We’d recommend staying vigilant during these times, but as mentioned, adders are rare - likely, you’ll never see one. 

As cold-blooded animals, adders love sunlight and warm areas, like exposed rock. You’ll usually see them here. 

If you do see one, keep away from it. It’s better not to disturb them.

Otherwise, watch where you walk and stay vigilant. 

Practising good recall with your dog and watching them carefully, at all times, is the best preparation.

How much does an adder bite cost to treat?

This will depend on the severity of symptoms and the specific treatment plan that your vet recommends

As always, dog insurance can help offset the costs of sudden accidents like this, and the peace of mind that your four-legged friend is safe is priceless. 

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