Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cairns pets killed by snakes

Several Cairns pets have  been killed by venomous snakes in Cairns in recent weeks.  A Cairns post article (ovember 13 2010 pg 3) describes the death of a maltese terrier as a result of a Taipan.  Taipans are highly venomous and can be aggressive.  A single bite can kill a human or large animal within minutes.
In Cairns, vets see relatively few snake bites compared with our colleagues in Southern States (eg. Canberra vets) sometimes treat several snake bites a week.  This is quite perplexing, as Cairns has a reputation for snakes and crocs!  
I put this down to several factors:
  • Rainforest in many areas around Cairns means the snakes present are more likely to be pythons than venomous snakes: thus there are plenty of snakes (which are quite visible because pythons can climb and can easily get into trees, decks and roofspaces.
  • There are plenty of snakes in sugar cane, but they tend to stay in there most of the year
  • Because of the warm weather snakes don't need to "sun" themselves like their southern cousins.
  • Of the venomous snakes (we have many across the cairns region: brown snakes, death adders, taipans and red belly black snakes (often with a pale or pink rather than red belly), taipan bites seem to be relatively common (probably because taipans are fairly aggressive): these dogs die before they get to the vet.  Black snakes are relatively non-aggressive.
  • I really don't know why we don't see more Brown Snake and Death Adder bites.  At Cairns Vet Clinic we haven't had to give snake anti-venom for years (though some vets further north, south or on the tablelands use it more regulagly): most of the suspect bites I have seen turn out to be something else.  A handful die on the way to the Vet Clinic or upon arrival: probably taipan bites.
What does this mean for Cairns pet owners?
Minimise the snake habitat around your yard.  Keep grass and weeds down, especially if you border cane or bush.  
Supervise (preferably on a lead) your dog during walks.
If you see snakes around your home, contact a snake catcher and prevent your dog injuring or being injured by the snake.
If your dog is bitten by a snake, try to get a photo (or bring the snake if it is dead only).  Don't try to kill the snake: this is a major cause of human bites.

Contrary to popular opinion, snake identification is difficult, especially based on color (which is about the limit of most people's skills).  I have seen many snakes which have been reported as taipans which have actually been other species of both venomous and non-venomous snakes.

Treat all snakes with respect and caution.

Does your pet interact with snakes?
Do you get snakes in your home?
Do you worry about snakes injuring your pets or children?
If you have moved from elsewhere, do you see more or less snakes in Cairns compared to your previous location?

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