Dr David Gething
Emergency - snake bite
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
Dog owners in Hong Kong are blessed with amazing hikes and outdoor spaces the likes of which many city-dwellers world-wide would be envious. However with these exciting resources comes some pretty serious risks including Tick Fever and Leptospirosis. Another danger, although not as common, is snake bite. Snake bites often cause severe pain and swelling, and in some cases can be life threatening.
Hong Kong is home to 52 species of snake, but fortunately only a small number of these pose a serious risk to dogs (or people). If you suspect your dog has been bitten by a snake, get him to the vet immediately. Secondly, if you see the snake responsible, try to either take a photo or remember what it looks like, but don't ever risk getting bitten or try to catch the snake.
Antivenin is species specific and the vet can't treat with antivenin unless they know what type of snake is responsible for the bite. If your dog is bitten by a snake you should stop any activity or exercise immediately and get them to the vet as quickly as possible. The good news is that most snakebites if treated in a timely manner by experienced veterinarians will not be fatal.
Emergency veterinary clinics are usually better equipped to deal with snake bites and more likely to carry the appropriate anti-venom. The Animal Emergency Centre on Hong Kong Island stocks the antivenom for Hong Kong's most venomous snakes.
The five most common snakes in Hong Kong are the Bamboo Pit Viper, Chinese Cobra, Red-Necked Keelback, Many-Banded Krait and common Rat snake.
Bamboo Pit Viper
The Bamboo Pit Viper is responsible for around 95% of snake bites in Hong Kong every year. Its bite is venomous and extremely painful.
This snake is unique in that it will not necessarily slither away if disturbed – it hunts by ambushing its prey and is not worried about loud noises. They are nocturnal, can see very well at night and may actively attack a dog that tries to approach it. They are one of the few snakes that will be aggressive.
Although bites from the Bamboo Pit Viper can be fatal, they are usually very successfully treated if your pet is taken to the vet quickly.
Cobras – The common Chinese Cobra or more rare King Cobra
The Chinese Cobra is next most likely culprit when it comes to snakebites in Hong Kong. It is active both day and night, however unlike the Bamboo Viper, it will not aggressively attack its prey and will usually try to escape. If it can't escape and is cornered, it will rear its head, spread its hood and strike the victim. Bites from the Chinese Cobra are very serious and the victim should be rushed to vet as quickly as possible for treatment.
The King Cobra is rarer, though some say even more dangerous. Hong Kong snake catcher Dave Willott says "It is very fast and (…) it is aggressive. The thing about them is that they can raise their body off the ground and within about half a second they can cover six foot. They glide. They are amazing. Obviously you have to be really careful".
If you're unsure what type of snake you're dealing with, the presence of a hood over the neck area is a pretty good sign that it's a venomous snake.
The Many Banded Krait
The Many Banded Krait is next on the list, although they are much rarer than the Bamboo Viper and Cobra. Bites from this snake are extremely toxic, and can lead to respiratory paralysis and heart failure. It will bite readily if picked up, and has a very flexible neck that can twist, so make sure you leave this one well alone if you encounter it. Many Banded Kraits are easy to identify due to their unique markings.
Although not venomous, the Burmese Python also poses a risk to dogs in Hong Kong. At up to 90kg it is Hong Kong's largest predator and has been known to eat large dogs.
Pythons will wrap their prey, crushing them to death before eating them. They will not attack human adults, however dogs (and small children) are at risk. Dave Willott, one of Hong Kong's snake catchers, advises pulling the pythons tail as hard as possible if your dog is attacked. Keep pulling, start walking backwards and if you're aggressive enough the snake will eventually let go. The Burmese Python is a protected species in Hong Kong and the numbers seem to be rising. However if you stick to well frequented hiking trails you are less likely to encounter one. Most encounters have been in the country park areas of Sai Kung. If you are hiking in areas that are known black-spots you should use a leash to prevent your dog running off.
If you do encounter a snake that are concerned is dangerous please call 999 and the police can arrange a professional snake catcher to come and help
The good news for dog owners of Hong Kong is that snake bites are actually quite rare, and if you are unlucky enough to encounter a snake, most bites are successfully treated after prompt treatment at the vet. Try to take a picture of the offending snake if possible, but if you can't get a photo or the snake has disappeared don't despair – the vet can still treat the bite even if we don't know which snake caused it. Common signs of snakebite include swelling and pain as well as puncture wounds where the fangs entered the skin. If you are unsure if your dog has been bitten, get him to the vet as soon as you can to make sure – the quicker you can get medical attention the better. And it's better to be safe than sorry.
The Animal Emergency Centre carries antivenin for all of these dangerous snake species. If you suspect your pet has been bitten by a snake, please call immediately on 2915 7979 for advice.