A HARTFORD vet is warning dog owners of the risks of snake bites in the warmer weather after a spaniel was left with serious injuries.

Osker, a five-year-old field spaniel, is believed to have been bitten by an adder while sniffing out sand dunes in north Wales and spent almost two weeks fighting for his life at Willows Veterinary Hospital in Hartford.

The venom was so toxic, it caused the skin on Osker’s abdomen to blacken, die and peel off while causing severe damage to his liver, leaving vets extremely concerned.

Northwich Guardian:

Osker was left in a critical condition for two weeks at Willows Vets in Hartford

Veterinary surgeon Mairead Currie, 24, of Willows Veterinary Hospital said Osker had such extensive bruising and swelling that she would have been very concerned for his health if he had not received veterinary care to fight the poison and infection in the days following the bite.

Adders have recently come out of their winter hibernation and can bite in self-defence if cornered or disturbed by an inquisitive pet. Areas of tall heather, close to beaches, are particular areas to be alert.

Ms Currie said: “Obviously, these things are very difficult to predict. It’s more about getting the message out there that it is a risk and to follow the necessary advice.

Northwich Guardian:

Osker with veterinary surgeon Mairead Currie

“Snakes are more common in some places than others, and tall grassland is a particular risk. It’s definitely something to bear in mind if you have a wandering dog.

“The majority of bitten dogs make a full recovery with appropriate treatment. However, Osker was really, really poorly when he came to us and it is only through extensive supportive liver medications, broad spectrum antibiotics and fluid therapy that he came through.

“We’ve not seen a case as severe as this before and we believe Osker had multiple bites. His wounds were reassessed daily and the situation was very dynamic but with adequate pain relief we managed to keep him comfortable.”

Northwich Guardian:

Osker's skin had peeled and blackened on a large area around the bite

Osker’s owners, Alison and Mark Wallace, were on holiday in north Wales when Osker is suspected of being bitten while investigating a recently strimmed area of grassland close to the sand dunes.

Although he continued to play and fetch his ball normally, he became lethargic when they returned home and later developed soreness and pain on his left side.

The couple sought veterinary advice on holiday and it was suspected Osker had pulled a muscle but his condition gradually deteriorated and they were forced to return to their home near Delamere Forest early.

Northwich Guardian:

Adder bites can be fatal to dogs

Alison and Mark took Osker to their local vets, The Firs Veterinary Surgery, in Kelsall, owned by the Willows Veterinary Group, where Osker was immediately referred to the group’s main hospital.

Alison said: “It really was touch and go. Quite a number of people who are dog owners have no idea this can happen. Of course we don’t want to scare people but if there’s any chance a dog has been bitten you need to know what to do quickly because the symptoms might not show for one to three hours.

Northwich Guardian:

Osker with owner Alison and vet Mairead

“He was on a number of intravenous medicines – I don’t know if he could’ve come through it by himself.

“We were extremely distressed. It was a worrying time but all we could think was that he was in the best place possible.”

The adder is the only venomous snake native to the UK and will only attack if threatened.

Snake bites in dogs are uncommon in the UK but they can occur, particularly in spring and summer and interestingly between 3pm and 4pm in the afternoon when the adders are most active.

Northwich Guardian:

The five-year-old field spaniel is now back home and on the mend

Adders live in a variety of habitats including sand dunes, open countryside, meadows and moorland.

Symptoms of an adder bite include painful swelling, lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea.

“What made it difficult for Osker was that he only presented with a very non-specific pain down one side,” said Mairead.

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“The message is, if you notice anything unusual, take them to a vet immediately. It’s better to err on the side of caution.

“We are all very hopeful Osker will continue to make a very good recovery. His liver values are almost completely back to normal.”