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Snake bites – learn how to act fast and effectively!

Perhaps the most feared snake in Africa is the Black Mamba. They are Africa's largest venomous snake and can grow to between 2.5 (8.2 feet) and 4.5 meters (14 feet), though 2 meters is more the average. It is one of the fastest snakes and can move at over 20km/hour. They are mostly active during the day.

The Black Mamba occurs in the North West, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and Northern KwaZulu-Natal Provinces in South Africa. They are not found in desert areas and are only found down the coastline up to around Port St. Johns. They are mostly found on the ground and in grass and bushes, but are one of the most nimble of snakes and can be found in trees.

The Black mamba is often olive coloured to dark brown and has a coffin shaped head. It gets its name from the colour of the inside of its mouth which is black. It has hollow fixed fangs and can inject fast acting neurotoxins which paralyse.

They inject powerful doses of venom and a man can be dead within 20 minutes of being bitten if the fangs hit a major vein or artery.

What to look out for with snake bites...

Symptoms of a snake bite

  • Nervousness or yelping

  • Two puncture wounds may be seen at the site along with pain, bleeding or bruising

  • Swelling around the site occurs within 2 hours

  • Drooling

  • Lameness

  • Breathing difficulties if the bite is on the face

  • Vomiting

  • Lethargy

  • Collapse

  • Seizures

Causes of snake bites

Adder bites are fairly rare. These snakes are most active during the afternoon between April and July. They usually bite in self defence and may be provoked by inquisitive puppies, young dogs or cats. Bites most often occur in the face or legs.

What you can do yourself

  • Seek help at your nearest veterinary clinic immediately. Call them to let them know what has happened and your estimated time of arrival.

  • Do not try to suck the bite site.

  • Bathe the area in cold water to help control the swelling.

  • Carry your pet, if possible, to minimise the spread of the venom around the body.

  • Keep your pet quiet and still on the way to the clinic.

Treatment of a snake bite

More than 95% of pets that are bitten by an adder will survive with prompt treatment. The average recovery time ranges from 24 hours to four weeks. Pain relief will be given as the bite is usually painful. Intravenous fluids may be needed to maintain blood pressure, treat signs of shock and reduce the risk of organ failure. Antihistamines may be used to help to reduce the effects of the venom. In severe cases anti-venom will be used. Anti-venom binds to and inactivates the venom to stop it causing further harm. It can be difficult to obtain and there is currently no licensed preparation in South Africa, so it has to be imported. Sadly, rare pet fatalities can be caused by adder bites.

When to see your physical veterinarian

  • Seek help at your nearest veterinary clinic immediately.


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