Snakes and the South African Antivenom Shortage – What You Need to Know Right Now

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The national antivenom shortage that has been heavily reported on in the media over the last few weeks remains a concern to the SPCA, especially for our four-legged friends as anti-venom stocks continue to be sparse.

Antivenom prioritised for human use as the shortage crisis continues

You might have missed last week’s story of a dog in Cape Town’s southern suburbs who died after sustaining an envenomating bite by a Cape cobra while being walked off-lead in a residential fynbos area; just one of a handful of recent pet casualties from across the peninsula who didn’t make it as there was just no antivenom available for them.

South Africa receives its antivenom supply from the South African Vaccine Producers (which fall under the National Health Laboratory Services – NHLS) and veterinary practices (including the SPCA), are not being supplied with antivenom by the vaccine laboratory currently, as any available stock of the life-saving medicine is being kept for any cases of human snakebite.

It's Getting Cooler but Remain on High Alert

Wildlife Departement Supervisor Jon Friedman says “even though we are heading into the cooler months of winter, when cold-blooded species (i.e. snakes), are making their way into hibernation, snakes are making the most of the remaining warm weather to catch the last few rays of sunshine and to feed up before winter’s long sleep ahead. It’s all about the weather: rainy periods interspersed with days of sunshine make for good feeding conditions. Some species, such as puff adders, are also taking the opportunity to find a mate before spring”.

You are urged to be cautious when hiking and walking dogs; stick to marked trails and pathways. Don’t let your dogs (or kids) wander out of sight and avoid allowing dogs to run off and explore areas of dense vegetation that could be a hiding place for a snake.

Get to the Vet if you suspect your pet has been bitten

If your dog sustains a snake bite, or you suspect that it has, it is critical to get to get him/her to your nearest vet. Do not try and force-feed your dog charcoal or give it milk and avoid anti-inflammatories or anti-histamines (eg Allergex tablets); all of these could make the situation a lot worse. Snake bites are different to bee stings. Some snake venom (eg puff adder), is slow-acting and some bites will release no venom at all (a “dry bite”), but when in doubt, rather get a veterinarian to confirm.  

If you encounter a snake on your property, the SPCA Wildlife Department staff will assist you in safely removing the animal off your property and releasing it back into nature, far from human disturbance. Please call us on 0217004158/9 during office hours or on 0833261604 after hours. 

Additional Reading
A Cobra finds a snug place to hide in a shoe

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