Snake safety in Australia. How to protect dogs and kids from snakes
Updated: Aug 7, 2021
The weather is warming up nicely and we are starting to see snakes on the move again. Mind you snakes can be seen all year round in Australia, but that is the subject for another day. Many people think there is an influx of snakes when the weather starts to warm, but this isn’t the case, they just haven’t been as visible for a while. Snakes undergo a reduced activity period from April to August. This is spent either brumating or in hibernation. Brumation is the state achieved when animals and reptiles are able to move on warmer winter days. Hibernation is the state of a deep sleep and there is no movement at all- and essentially excluding a few species that occur in the alpine regions does not apply to our native snakes. Fresh out of this reduced activity period they look for two things – food and a mate to breed with.
In this blog we will answer some of the most commonly asked questions we're asked regarding dogs, children and snakes.
Can I snake proof my yard?
While it is almost impossible to totally snake proof your property there are some things you can do to minimise the amount of snakes that you may potentially encounter in your yard and house. Generally speaking and dependant on location, most venomous snakes pass through – they generally won’t set up residence at your place. If there is no constant food source and safe place to pass the day they will tend to move on a lot quicker. Pythons generally cause no threat to humans, they will clear your rodents out for you and then move on. By keeping a tidy yard and house you reduce the shelter sites, the attractiveness to prey and therefore minimising the snake encounters.
Carpet python, Morelia spilota on the hunt for a feed in a yard in the middle of suburbia in Brisbane.
How do I protect my dogs and kids from snakes?
Keep yards mowed as short as possible. Long grass provides somewhere for not only snakes but the animals and amphibians they prey upon somewhere to hide. If it is not possible to keep grass as short as possible, wear closed in shoes and long pants. Train your dogs to stay beside you in these areas and don't let kids play in them, especially unsupervised. Keep your eye out for snakes while in this environment, seeing them before they are aware of you gives you time to calmly walk away.
Don’t leave rubbish lying around. If it doesn’t fit in the bin, take it to the tip. Like long grass, rubbish will provide protection for both snakes and rodents alike. Woodpiles, leaf-litter, tin and clutter in the yard will be an enticing shelter for both snakes and rodents.
Make sure any retaining walls are complete – holes in the walls are perfect hides for snakes. Also check for any holes around your house and garage.
Sheds and garages should be tidy. Most of the time they are not well sealed and cluttered. If they are organised it is easier to see if you have a visitor, for example pythons are often found in urban environments.
A high fence is not a guarantee that you will not have visitors. There is an old wives tale that venomous snakes don’t climb, only pythons do. Not true. While venomous snakes are often found on the ground many species will climb trees or fences while hunting.
Always wear closed in shoes, especially at night. Make sure kids also wear closed in shoes while in the yard. Whilst thongs are comfortable to wear in summer they provide no protection should they be bitten. Don’t leave shoes outside overnight. If you do, always check they are empty before putting feet in!
If out at night always use a torch.
Don’t put your hands where you cannot see them. Snakes don’t go out of their way to bite people, but when startled it is their mode of defence.
If you have pets that live outside, make sure their feeding area is always clean and preferably away from the house. Food attracts rodents. Rodents attract snakes. Use mouse or snake wire on enclosures to prevent unwanted visitors for your pets. Snakes view the pet guinea pig, pet bird, pet chicken etc as a meal. If possible, keep your cats and smaller breeds of dogs inside. By keeping your beloved pets inside you not only keep them safe but also native wildlife.
Keep flyscreen's and screen doors maintained. Holes allow snakes entry to your house. If you don’t have screen doors and flyscreen's on your windows, keep the doors and windows shut.
Find out what snakes are in your area, and familiarise yourself with their appearance. It is important you learn what the snakes in your area look like. For example not all Brown Snakes are brown. A juvenile Eastern Brown looks completely different to an adult Eastern Brown. A carpet python from New South Wales will look completely different from a carpet python from Brisbane.
Familiarize yourself with current first aid for both humans and your dog. Keep a first aid kit on hand that has snake bite aid in it.
When walking with kids or dogs always keep them close to you. Keep your dog on a lead.
Snake education activities such as reading books and articles from reliable sources online are a great way to familiarise yourself with what snakes are in your area.
This is a great little book to keep on the bookshelf. At $25AUD its great peace of mind.
Do snake repellers work?
There are some “repellers” on the market. As snake consultants with over 5 decades of experience collectively we can promise you they don’t work. They send out vibrations. We’ve lost count of how many snakes we have removed from houses, work places and also public places that have snakes either curled up on them, underneath them, or lying close to them. There are oils and pellets on the market also that claim to repel snakes. Again we would be suggesting not to waste your money and make sure you and your family become aware of snake safety instead.
Red-bellied Black Snake, Pseudechis porphyriacus basking right next to a snake repeller.
How do I train my dog not to go for snakes?
There are snake avoidance training courses for your dog. These are usually run by qualified dog trainers. Do your research into these before booking as some of the methods taught may go against what you would and wouldn’t do with your dog normally.
What do I do if I see a snake in my yard or house?
Before you ever encounter a snake, we recommend finding a good snake consultant or snake catcher in your area. This takes out the stress of trying to find one whilst panicked. Keep the name and number of your local snake person handy. Always call a licenced snake consultant to remove a snake. Never try to do it yourself or try to kill one. 80% of bites that occur, result from inexperienced people trying to kill or catch a snake. If that isn’t deterrent enough, killing snakes is illegal and can bring huge penalties. A business card on the fridge for both the local snake catcher and your vet will assist in an emergency. Another great tip, is to save the snake catchers number in your phone. Save it under ‘snake catcher’ so you don’t need to remember their name in a hurry!
If you are unable to confidently identify a snake you spot from a safe distance take a photo and send it to your local snake catcher. Many offer a free identification service.
What do you do when you see a snake?
Don’t panic. A snake would rather remove itself than attack you. Unless provoked, snakes are reluctant to bite a human. Believe it or not, they are actually more afraid of us than we are of them. You can liken the experience of a snake coming across you as you coming across a giant. An eight foot long snake is still only a few inches high.
If a snake feels cornered or threatened then it will show its defensive display. Normally this is a bluff, they are trying to make you feel as intimidated as they feel. This is the warning sign to leave it alone if you haven’t yet.
Sudden movements may trigger defensive actions from a snake. Remember to be calm and freeze, then slowly move away, keeping your eyes on the snake at all times.
If your dog kills or injures a snake thoroughly check your dog for any signs of snake bite. Like most other animals dogs do NOT show signs of illness or weakness until they are able to no longer hide it.
Eastern Brown Snake, Pseudonaja textilis in it's natural habitat.
What are the symptoms of a snake bite in dogs?
Not all of these symptoms may be visible, and they wont come at once: difficulty breathing, uncontrolled drooling, dilated pupils, vomiting, muscle tremors, walking unsteadily due to paralysis, loss of bowel and/or bladder control, blood in the urine and swelling.
Can a dog survive a snakebite without treatment?
It depends on what species of snake has bitten your dog. If a python has bitten your dog and you 100% know it was a python, then yes, definitely. Why risk it though? If your dog shows signs of a bite, keep the dog as calm as possible, remain calm yourself as they will react to your mood and get to the vet immediately. Carry your dog to the car and to the vet's surgery once you have arrived, don’t let them walk. Talk to him/her in a reassuring voice, letting them know by your tone and actions that there is nothing to be anxious about. The earlier your dog receives treatment, the better the chance of a full recovery.
Are there home remedies for snake bites that are effective?
Home remedies such as tourniquets or ice packs take up valuable time that should be used in getting to the vet. Essential oils are not going to do a thing if it was a bite from a venomous snake. Recovery times are variable depending on the species of snake, amount of venom injected and the treatment. It can take many days, depending on the severity of the bite. A serious envenomation with complications in canines could turn into a lengthy vet stay and the recovery time could be weeks.
What happens if my kids or dogs are bitten by a snake?
In the cases of bites, there are many types of antivenom available. Polyvalent antivenom is theoretically able to neutralise the bites from all terrestrial snakes. In general terms, it is a broad spectrum antivenom but is extremely expensive. It is hoped that it will be effective against all species, but has not been tested with all species.
How can you be safe around snakes?
Snakes are part of life in Australia. There are more snakes than you realise in suburbia, they are just not seen. Being prepared in the event of a snake encounter will likely mitigate the chances of a poor outcome. If you do see a snake slowly back away and call a professional to deal with the snake- after all it is imperative that you are safe and healthy to look after your children and your best friend.
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References and recommended reading:
Eipper S.C. 2012, A Guide to Australian Snakes in Captivity - Elapids & Colubrids, Reptile Keeper Publications. Burleigh Heads
Eipper S.C. & Eipper T. 2019 A Naturalist's Guide to the Snakes of Australia, John Beaufoy Publishing, Oxford