Protect your dog’s eyes against the effects of snake venom

The lush bushveld of the Lowveld in Mpumalanga combined with its warm, humid climate make this region the ideal habitat for snakes. Finding these slithery creatures in home gardens in the area is standard and although this may make us feel that we truly are close to the wonders of nature, it unfortunately also poses a threat to our domestic animals, especially dogs.

Staffie after Mozambican Spitting Cobra spat venom in its eye

As the mercury rises, snake activity increases. Snakes are lethal this time of year since they have concentrated their venom during the hibernation period.

The danger to our pets when it comes to snakes isn’t only related to snake bites. Throughout the year local veterinarians are inundated with emergency calls and visits from pet owners whose furry family members have been spat in the eye by Mozambican or Black Spitting Cobras (the most common spitting snakes in this region).

Snouted Cobra

These species of snakes can ‘spit’ their venom up to about three meters and remarkably enough know exactly how to aim for the eyes. In fact, there is evidence that if a spitting snake spits at you while you are moving from side to side, it will predictively spit ahead of you so that the venom gets into your eyes at the right time. Although this is an amazing fact of nature, it isn’t so great if you are a nosy and determined dog that’s determined to take on these fearless reptiles (this seldom happens to cats as they are believed to be too quick on their feet).

Needless to say, venom in the eyes is extremely painful. In fact, some have related the feeling to that of rubbing the eyes with a mixture of sand and petrol. So, when your dog suffers this fate it’s essential that you treat it immediately, and correctly.  As soon as it happens, or you realise it has happened, it is vital that you follow the three-step plan:

  • Step 1 – Flush the animal’s eye with clean water. Ensure the eyes are flushed thoroughly and seek veterinary advice.
  • Step 2 – Take the animal to the vet as soon as possible. If it is during office hours, it is advisable to take the animal to your local vet immediately. If the incident happens after hours follow Step 1 and call your vet for an appointment the following morning.
  • Step 3 – On examination, the vet will flush the dog’s eye with special saline and prescribe additional medication if required. It is important to note that only specialised saline solution, which is only available at animal hospitals and clinics can be used hence the necessity to take the injured animal in.

According to Dr Christo Nortje from Van Wijk Street Animal and Avian Hospital using other substances such as milk or Rooibos tea to rinse the affected eye is not recommended as there is no scientific evidence that this works. He also urges pet owners not to medicate their pet with human medication (eye drops included) as some human eye drops can actually cause more harm.