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dog safety from snakes & ticks

Critters & Your Dogs: The Need-to-Know About Snakes & Ticks

Summer is here, and with the warmer weather we spend more time outdoors with our pets and go on more hikes etc. As we come out of our winter hiding, so too snakes start to make more appearances as well.

Now I don’t know about you, but lately there have been a lot of snake-sightings in people’s yards and gardens, and this scares the daylights out of me. So we naturally decided to investigate to be more prepared.

Snake and tick bites are more common than we realise – but the thought of it happening is often one of the biggest worries for pet parents, especially if they live in an area that’s known for snake-sightings. Your dog could be bitten by a snake or pick up the dreaded and dangerous tick bite fever when you take your dogs on holiday.

Would you know what to do in the event of an emergency? The internet is full of advice on what you could do – and a lot of it is wrong. Here are the real facts about snakes, ticks and what you should know about how they can affect your pets.

Snakes are a common sight in houses and gardens, and it can scare the wits out of you to come face to face with any kind of snake, especially if you aren’t sure what kind of snake it is.

Fear and panic is a common reaction, though herpetology experts (the branch of zoology concerned with reptiles and amphibians) recommend that you call your local snake handler first. You should never try to handle a snake yourself, even when they aren’t moving; some snakes (such as the Rinkhals and even Mozambique Spitting Cobra) are known to play dead! Snake handlers can relocate the snake safely, and ensure no harm comes to you or your pets in the process.

You should have an emergency plan for snake bites in the event that you or your pet ever gets bitten.

  • Have the numbers of the vets in your area (or the area you’ll be visiting) written down in an obvious place so that you don’t have to fumble for numbers in an emergency.
  • If you can, identify the snake that might have bitten your pet and relay this information to the vet – but never approach a snake to do this. Note things like the colour, markings and shape of the head if you do happen to get a look at it. If you’re not in too much of a panic, try to take a picture if it’s still anywhere close-by, but Vets and hospitals should recognise the symptoms presenting.
  • Keep your pet (and yourself) calm on the way to the vet. Sometimes panic can accelerate the spread of venom – and a lot of people bitten by snakes die from sheer shock even when the snake bite was not venomous.
  • Don’t try to treat a bite yourself – ever.

Expert Advice
South African snake handler Johan Marais has handled thousands of snakes in his lifetime, given many seminars on snakes and even been bitten by a few himself. He’s fond of pointing out that snakes are venomous instead of poisonous – “because most people don’t go around eating them”.

The best advice for a snake bite is simple. Marais says, “Get to a vet or hospital immediately. In severe envenomation, your pet will die without antivenom.”

With this, he mentions that people should stay far away from supposed natural remedies they might have heard or read about. “Allergex, charcoal and milk does absolutely nothing.”

Handy Details:
Need to find a vet in a hurry? Here’s a handy list of registered and accredited vets from the South African Veterinary Association (SAVA).

Free “ASI Snakes” app for profiles, photos, quizzes, and snake catcher contact details in South Africa.

The majority of dog owners will find a tick (or usually several) on their dogs at some point; no, this doesn’t mean that your dog will automatically pick up tick bite fever – but it does mean that your pet is at more risk.

  • I’m a firm believer in Bravecto and we give our furkids their tablet religiously every three months. This tablet treats skin from the inside out, making the dogs coat uninhabitable for ticks (and fleas) so they don’t really attach themselves. Other popular treatments are Frontline (topical), Advantix (topical) and NexGard (tablet).
  • You can also start bathing your dogs more frequently with tick and flea shampoos: There are great ones on the market, and they can help control the spread of ticks before they become a problem. What I also like to do is wash the bedding in these shampoos, and then sprinkle some tick & flea powder on the bedding once dry.
  • Check your dog for ticks regularly. When you need to remove a tick, the best method is smearing some petroleum jelly (or rubbing alcohol) on the tick, impeding its ability to breathe – this makes it easier to remove, and lessens the chances that the tick’s teeth will remain left in the wound. If you have none on hand, make sure you reach as close as possible to the skin to ensure you get the head of the tick pulled off too. Check the wound to make sure the head is not still attached there. It is a myth that the body will regrow, but if the tick is accidentally pulled apart and the head stays in the skin, there’s a risk of being infected with other microscopic organisms.
  • There are several suggestions on how to remove ticks and the most effective one is to use a sharp pair of tweezers. Put the tweezers as close to the dog’s skin and the tick’s head as possible and slowly but firmly putt the tick straight out (not at an angle). Be very careful not to take the tick off with your fingers as you may squeeze the contents of the tick’s abdomen into the dog and cause disease or infection.
  • Ticks are notoriously hard to kill. Once removed, fire is the best method, else I find toilets work just a well.
  • Take note of any tick bite wounds that become painful, black or ulcerate – this is for both your dogs and yourself. This can be a potential sign of infection and one of the first signs of tick bite fever. Should the wound be discoloured or swollen, see a vet or doctor immediately!

The Basics About Ticks
There are several different types of ticks around – and not all of them carry the parasite that can make you or your dogs sick. I think what freaks me out most is that they are part of the arachnid family! (ie same classification as spiders – yuck.) The most common ones in South Africa are the grey (larger), the red and the black (smaller) ticks.

One of the most common types is Rickettsia africae, which has legs that almost appear “spotted” when you look from close up. This one does carry the parasite more often than not. But in all circumstances when you find a tick on yourself or your furkid, rather be safe than sorry. Visit your vet or Dr within 24 hours.

Spotting the Symptoms
African Tick Bite Fever is one of the more common diseases that ticks can carry. You should keep an eye out for the symptoms if it shows up in your pet. Symptoms can include:

  • Pale gums and inner-eyelids
  • Blood in the urine or stool
  • Severe dehydration
  • Loss of appetite
  • Trouble walking
  • Weakness
  • Dry nose

It’s extremely risky for your pet to wait out symptoms or think you can treat these at home. Make an immediate appointment with your vet if your pet should show any of these symptoms – or just generally start to seem “off.”

Do you have any other tips around snake and/ or tick bite prevention? Share them with us in the comments below!

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