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Adding up to a real problem – record year for the UK’s only venomous snake

26 August 2015

2015 has become a record year for sightings of the Adder: the UK’s only venomous snake. So much so, that the 4 foot long snake can now be spotted regularly around parks, woods and forests in the UK. Although Adders try to avoid humans and animals wherever possible, dog walkers should remain vigilant, as bites can be serious and even fatal to the inquisitive canine. Adder bites to humans also occur, and in recent years, an average of 1-2 cases have been reported to the UK National Poisons Information Service each week.


The Adder is the UK’s only venomous snake


Adder numbers are usually highest in the summer months, especially between the months of April and July. They often emerge from the undergrowth onto clearings such as paths in order to sun themselves, which can then bring them into contact with humans and animals. The snakes are present all over the UK, with the South-East of England being a particular hot spot. In one UK study, most adder bites in dogs were reported in the county of Surrey, and most bites occurred between the hours of 3pm and 4pm in the afternoon.


Adder numbers are usually highest in the summer months


As Adders are reclusive, and often hide out of sight, it may not be apparent that a dog has been bitten. However, symptoms usually include a fast heart rate, swelling to the face and legs, depression and pain. In most cases, symptoms develop within 2 hours of the bite. If you think your dog may have been bitten, you should seek urgent veterinary advice and treatment. Although many dogs become very unwell following Adder bites, most recover within 5 days if veterinary care is provided.

Adders vary in colour from olive green/yellowish-brown to reddish-brown in the female. The adder has a black brown zig-zag pattern and a V or X shaped marking on the head. Adders can be easily confused with the non-venomous grass snake (Natrix natrix). Adders have an elliptical ‘slit like’ pupil whereas grass snakes have a round shaped pupil (care! – you need to get quite close to see this!).


The non-venomous grass snake (Natrix natrix) which is easily confused with the adder

The non-venomous grass snake (Natrix natrix) which is easily confused with the adder