Dog’s Head Swells Twice the Size After Adder Bite

By James Glaholm, August 2020
adder snake bites dog

Ralf the 4-year-old yellow Labrador before and after the adder bite.

Ralf the 4-year-old yellow Labrador was rushed to Acorn Veterinary Surgery in Hove, East Sussex after being bitten by a venomous snake, a European adder, while out walking with his owner. Ralf was left with two puncture-marks on his muzzle, just a few centimetres from his nose, and was kept in the veterinary practice overnight for supervision. When Ralf returned home the following evening, his muzzle had swollen so much that his owner, Will Slade, could barely recognize him.

The incident occurred as Ralf and Will made their way to Devil’s Dyke, a nearby National Trust park that the pair visit regularly. Ralf had been walking a few metres ahead like usual when suddenly, Will saw him jump.

“He shot backwards, out of the blue,” says Will. “All four paws were off the ground!”

Will, who’d never encountered an adder on the way to Devil’s Dyke before, recalls seeing “the last six inches” of the snake before it disappeared under a nearby hedge.

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Ralf became immediately subdued. “He wasn’t pulling on the lead like usual and he couldn’t jump into the back of the car. My main concern was to get him to the vets.” They arrived at Acorn Veterinary Surgery in the early evening, where it was later decided that Ralf would need overnight supervision.

“We had a very quiet night without Ralf,” says Will, who owns two cats, as well as Ralf the loving, mischievous and playful Labrador who, he admits, handled the situation with great bravery. “When he got back, he’d undergone a lot of treatment for the pain. Apart from whining for attention, he was fine.”

Despite the pain and shock, Ralf made a full recovery within 4 days of visiting the vet.

“They were great, as ever,” Will says of Acorn Veterinary Surgery, who liaised with a nearby emergency care provider to make sure Ralf got the treatment he needed. “The staff were attentive and kept me updated throughout the process. I never doubted that Ralf was in excellent hands!”

In the United States, there are 21 species of venomous snakes, with the majority being Rattlesnakes while Adders are the only venomous snakes in the United Kingdom. They usually live in sand dunes or woodland areas, and enjoy sunbathing. Just like Ralf, most dogs who are bitten by adders make a full recovery within 5-7 days, but it’s still important to have their injuries checked out by your veterinarian as soon as possible, who will also prescribe pain relief and medication.

“If I’d been an SAS [Special Air Person] person,” jokes Will, “I’d have sucked the venom out myself – but I’m not an SAS person.” Joking aside, experts caution: If your dog is bitten by a snake, do not try to suck out the venom. While it’s tempting to think this might save your dog, you would be risking your own life. This technique only works for the heroes of action movies. Your goal should be to seek veterinary attention as soon as possible.

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James Glaholm is a copywriter for My Family Vets. Looking for a vet in Hove or Hangleton, East Sussex? Acorn Veterinary Surgery are part of My Family Vets’ trusted network, providing exceptional care for pets and outstanding service for their owners.