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This time of year, marks the beginning of a rise in snake bites in animals as the warmer weather and dryer conditions put an end to their winter hibernation.
As the weather continues to warm up, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is encouraging animal owners to take precautions to help minimise the risk of snake bites and seek immediate veterinary advice if they suspect their animal has has been bitten by a snake.
AVA President, Dr Paula Parker, said that snakes tend to be their most active at the end of the day.
“Snake bites often occur in the late afternoon or early evening, however it’s important for people to be vigilant throughout the day,” she said.
Dr Parker said that snakes found in backyards are usually looking for mice or rats to eat.
“Rats and mice can often be found in untidy sheds, or where’s there’s a good supply of wood piles and rubbish. So, it’s a good idea to maintain a tidy garden and shed, ensuring that wood piles are neatly stacked and discarding lawn clippings and mulch rather than keeping it in a pile.
“Outside, keep a close eye out for snakes in bushy areas or near water. It’s best to try and keep horses, cattle and sheep away from bushy areas. Dog owners should try and avoid these areas when walking their pets at the end of the day and preferably keep them on the lead.
“If you keep your rabbits and guinea pigs in a hutch outside, then you will need to make sure you can keep snakes out of the hutch. Identify and cover all openings which are larger than one centimetre as some snakes have the ability to squeeze through small openings,” she said.
The AVA says it’s important for animal owners to be aware of the signs of a snake bite as owners may not actually see their animal being bitten. Signs of snake bite can vary depending on the snake and the location in Australia. Common signs of a snake bite include:
- Sudden weakness followed by collapse
- Unexplained bleeding or swelling
- Reluctance or inability to walk
- Breathing problems.
Bites from some snakes will cause an animal to collapse, and then seem to recover. This can give false confidence that the animal is okay, but what is really happening is the snake toxins are spreading through the system and wreaking havoc. Within a few hours, other signs start to develop.
“If you think your animal has been bitten, keep your pet calm and contact your vet immediately. The chances of recovery are much greater if treatment is delivered early,” Dr Parker said.
During this Mental Health Week, the peak body for veterinarians, the Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) is reminding pet owners that like humans, pets can suffer from mental illness and it’s important that we keep a watchful eye on the mental health of not just people, but also their pets.
Spokesperson for the AVA and veterinary behaviour specialist, Dr Jacqui Ley, says that psychiatry is part of veterinary science because much like humans, animals too can develop mental health disorders and it’s important to diagnose them and commence treatment as early as possible.
“While there is no hard evidence on the rate of mental illness in animals, it’s reasonable to conclude that statistically it’s the same as in humans – that is, one in five suffer from a mental health condition. Given the number of pets that end up in shelters because of a behaviour-related problem, one in five is certainly a reasonable, possibly conservative statistic.
“The key is for pet owners to seek veterinary advice if they notice unusual behaviour in their pet. Some dog owners go direct to a trainer for help, but your veterinarian should always be the first port of call. They will then be able to advise on next steps,” she said.
In dogs, mental illness commonly manifests in the form of:
- aggression towards people or animals
- fears and phobias, for example of thunderstorms
- compulsion such as tail or shadow chasing
- cognitive decline in older dogs.
Dr Ley says that as dogs age, it’s normal to expect the brain to slow down a bit, but some are developing serious cognitive health conditions such as dementia or Alzheimer’s, which is going undetected.
“As a behaviour specialist, I don’t get a lot of owners of older dogs seeking help for serious cognitive problems, which is a concern because it means these problems are going untreated.
“For an older dog suffering with cognitive decline, they’ll often display a loss of learned responses such as where it’s supposed to toilet or getting lost in its normal environment. They’ll also become increasingly anxious and even wake at night. Unfortunately, it’s easy for owners to dismiss signs of serious cognitive problems as simply their dog getting on in age and mentally slowing down.
“But there’s normal aging and abnormal aging and we know that both dogs and cats can develop a form of Alzheimer’s. For dogs older than seven years that are displaying abnormal signs of aging, a visit to the veterinarian is critical in helping to identify and address any existing mental health issues. While we may not be able to cure the pet of the illness, through a combination of adapting its environment, modifying its behaviour and sometimes medication, we can manage the illness giving the pet a chance to live a quality, happy life,” Dr Ley said.
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