We had a bit of a crash course on snakes today at the vets. Our labrador, Wooster, was bitten by one last night. He looked to have a little limp like he’d hurt his ankle but by this morning it was really swollen and we knew a call to the vet was needed.
The only venomous snake in this area is the viper (vipère) and we think that the one that bit Wooster was an asp viper. They can be very easily confused with harmless grass snakes.
This is how the vet told us we could distinguish between the two:
- Don’t go by the colour. Both snakes come in lots of colours. This viper is not like the adder, another type of viper, which has distinctive black markings. It can be browny or black, or reddy, or paler…..
- Vipers have distinctive vertical slit pupils, whereas other snakes have round pupils. This is one of the best distinguishing features.
- Vipers have a slightly upturned nose, and the scales on the top of their head are very small.
- Asp vipers are smallish (a good bit less than a metre normally) and not particularly thick – the vet told us if we saw anything bigger it wasn’t a vipère.
- Usually these vipers prefer dry areas, so would be found on earth piles or amongst stones. The “couleuvre” snake here prefers damper areas or water.
One thing we found surprising was that smaller vipers generally have a stronger venom than bigger vipers – their size means they rely more on their venom to kill predators. In spring the viper’s venom is more potent because it has been “building up” over the winter. In autumn, snakes are more likely to bite because they are lethargic in the colder weather and less likely to slither away. Generally, a snakes first reaction is to escape, not bite.
Snakes are protected in France.
What to do after a viper bite?
We are not experts. This is the advice we were given by the vet. We hope it is useful if you ever come across a snake yourself, but please do seek professional help too.
- Who or whatever has been bitten should stay as calm and still as possible. This stops the poison moving around the body so quickly.
- Apply ice to the bite, for the same reason.
- See a vet or doctor as soon as possible. Our vet said they no longer use an anti-venom on dogs, as this killed more dogs than the bite.
- Don’t try to suck out the venom, or burn the area.
This viper has two kinds of venom. The first is fast acting and aims for the heart. Wooster was bitten on his foot and this was very lucky. A bite to the nose is much more serious, often lethal. The second poison triggers necrosis locally – this means that it causes the skin around the bite to go black and often peel. The area should therefore be kept very clean until fully healed. Wooster got antibiotics (to ensure no infection sets in around the bite) and anti-inflammatories to reduce the swelling and ease the pain.
Our poor wee doggy. This wasn’t the way we had planned to learn more about snakes. But it’s useful to know all the same. We’re off now to give our pooch a big cuddle. He’s awfully sore.