Adder bites – symptoms and treatment

The Adder (Vipera berus) is commonly found in the south west of England and is the only venomous snake native to the UK, most active in the afternoons between April and August.

Adders are 40-70cm in length, and range in colour from pale grey to dark brown, olive green, yellow or reddish brown. However, in spite of this colour variation, they are all recognisable by the zigzag pattern on their backs with a V or X shape on the head.

Dogs are curious by nature, and will often unintentionally provoke an adder into biting but adders are not aggressive animals; they will only use their venom as a last means of defence and this means that, fortunately, adder bites are relatively rare.

Signs your dog may have been bitten

Most bites are to the face or forelimb with the most common symptoms being significant swelling to the bite area, and lethargy.
You may also notice these additional symptoms however fewer than than 5% of patients display the more severe signs:

  • lameness
  • fever
  • increased heart and breathing rates
  • drooling
  • vomiting
  • wobbly gait (ataxia)
  • convulsions

If you suspect your dog has been bitten by an Adder:

  1. Don’t panic. Your dog is highly likely to make a full recovery if treated promptly and correctly.
  2. Keep them still. Carry them back to your car wherever possible as movement increases venom uptake into their circulation, or walk them back gently.
  3. Get to the vet. Call the vet to let them know you are coming, prepare a fluid drip and to ensure they have the anti-venom if necessary.

Most dogs spend a few days at the vets but go on to make a full recovery, usually within five days.