Vet warns dog owners of the risks of adder bites in warmer weather after a family dog was left fighting for his life.
Five-year-old field spaniel, Osker, is believed to have been bitten by an adder while sniffing out sand dunes in North Wales and spent almost two weeks fighting for his life at Willows Veterinary Hospital in Hartford.
“It was a worrying time but all we could think was that he was in the best place possible.”
The venom was so toxic, it caused the skin on Osker’s abdomen to blacken, die and peel off while causing severe damage to his liver, leaving vets extremely concerned.
Veterinary surgeon Mairead Currie, said, “Obviously, these things are very difficult to predict. It’s more about getting the message out there that it is a risk and to follow the necessary advice. Snakes are more common in some places than others, and tall grassland is a particular risk. It’s definitely something to bear in mind if you have a wandering dog.
“The majority of bitten dogs make a full recovery with appropriate treatment. However, Osker was really, really poorly when he came to us and it is only through extensive supportive liver medications, broad spectrum antibiotics and fluid therapy that he came through.
“We’ve not seen a case as severe as this before and we believe Osker had multiple bites. His wounds were reassessed daily and the situation was very dynamic but with adequate pain relief we managed to keep him comfortable.”
Osker’s owners, Alison and Mark Wallace, were on holiday in North Wales when Osker was suspected of being bitten while investigating a recently strimmed area of grassland close to the sand dunes. Although he continued to play and fetch his ball normally, he became lethargic when they returned home and later developed soreness and pain on his left side.
The couple sought veterinary advice on holiday and it was suspected Osker had pulled a muscle but his condition gradually deteriorated and they were forced to return to their home near Delamere Forest early.
“We were told we were not out of the woods, even with his liver enzyme levels started to come down. It really was touch and go.”
“Quite a number of people who are dog owners have no idea this can happen. Of course we don’t want to scare people but if there’s any chance a dog has been bitten you need to know what to do quickly because the symptoms might not show for one to three hours.
“He was on a number of intravenous medicines – I don’t know if he could’ve come through it by himself.We were extremely distressed. It was a worrying time but all we could think was that he was in the best place possible.”
Mairead, who qualified at the University of Edinburgh, said Osker had started to develop bruising around his groin area when he returned home from North Wales. “We took his bloods and his liver enzymes were through the roof,” she explained.
“His tummy had started to swell and ooze where the skin was dying. It is best not to operate multiple times. The dead skin was actually acting as a bandage. We waited until the skin dying process was complete before operating.”
The team then flushed and drained the wound repeatedly. Around a week after he was first admitted, they operated to move some of the healthy skin towards the centre of the wound and promote the healing process.
A secondary operation went ahead where Osker’s skin was brought together with staples to fully close the wounds and he’s now recovering at home. “Osker has been fantastic. Throughout all this he was the bravest trooper,” said Mairead.
“During most of the dressing changes he would just lie there for us. He was so good. “Everyone has absolutely fallen in love with him. He’s such a little character.”
Alison added, “We’re just so grateful to everybody. They were so good at communicating with us and everyone was so friendly and lovely. They made a difficult time bearable.
“We’re just trying to keep him calm at the moment which is tricky as he does love to chase Mabel, our cat. She was so pleased to see him when he came back. She kept sleeping in his bed while he was away. He’s back pottering around the garden and going out for little walks. He’s seems much better.”
The adder is the only venomous snake native to the UK and will only attack if threatened. They prefer woodland, heathland and moorland habitats as well as coastal and grassland areas.
Snake bites in dogs are uncommon in the UK but they can occur, particularly in spring and summer and interestingly between 3pm and 4pm in the afternoon when the adders are most active.
You can identify an adder as a greyish snake, with a dark and very distinct zig-zag pattern down its back, and a red eye. Males tend to be more silvery-grey in colour, while females are more light or reddish-brown.
“What made it difficult for Osker was that he only presented with a very non-specific pain down one side,” said Mairead.
“The message is, if you notice anything unusual, take them to a vet immediately. It’s better to err on the side of caution. We are all very hopeful Osker will continue to make a very good recovery. His liver values are almost completely back to normal.”