Dogs more vulnerable to snakebite than cats, research finds

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In outback Queensland, dogs have a playground full of bushland in which to roam, but that could be to their detriment.

New research by the University of Queensland has found snake venom is twice as likely to be fatal to dogs than to other household pets.

Through evolution, dogs’ blood clots faster than many other animals, including cats, as they sustain more injuries and must recover quicker in the wild.

signs of your animal being bitten list: vocalising or yelping, sudden collapse, even if they appear to recover, vomitingsigns of your animal being bitten list: vocalising or yelping, sudden collapse, even if they appear to recover, vomiting
Mount Isa vets recommend your animal seeks medical help as soon as possible, and to identify the snake without coming into contact.(ABC North West Queensland)

The UQ research that dogs’ ability to clot blood faster made them more vulnerable to venom.

“A dog would reach that level of lethal patho-physiological state much sooner than say cats, so there’s a huge difference in how quickly they go down,” Associate Professor Bryan Fry from the university’s Venom Evolution Lab said.

Dr Fry led the research with PhD student Christina Zdenek, using remaining canine and feline blood from routine vet surgeries.

They discovered that while 31 per cent of dogs survived a snakebite, 66 per cent of cats were able to survive.

Dog with snakeDog with snake
While 31 per cent of dogs survived a snakebite, 66 per cent of cats were able to survive.(Supplied: Tasmanian Animal Hospitals)

“Compared to cats, which clot blood a lot slower and are likely to get bitten on their legs, they have a much better outcome.”

The research was aimed at making pet owners aware of responsible ownership when it came to Australian snakes.

Snake catching ‘not really exciting’

Highly venomous snakes are so common in Mount Isa that catching them has become a mundane task for Rick Leeman.

“It’s not really exciting, [though] sometimes it is for the people that call me,” Mr Leeman said.

The outback snake-catcher moves one of Australia’s most toxic snakes, the Eastern Brown, at least twice a week in the summer.

Over his career, he has seen snakes get the better of household pets — particularly, canines.

“We had a little Shitzu-Maltese cross that exhibited signs of a snake bite and went blind immediately.”

An eastern brown snake is moving through the grass.An eastern brown snake is moving through the grass.
Many Australian snakes, including eastern browns, have neurotoxic venom which attacks the nervous system.(ABC Canberra: Michael Black)

He put the dogs’ downfall to their behaviour, as dogs often wandered into the tall grass.

“I think dogs sniff a lot more to identify what they’re dealing with, where cats are pretty wary and what I’d call street-smart,” he said.

“With a cat, you often see the snake worse-off.”

Mr Leeman urged people to keep an eye on the location of the snake when calling a catcher.

“They’re natural, this is their environment, and if you do see one, don’t touch it,” he said.