adder on a dog walk

Credit: Vets4Pets

What is an Adder?

The European adder is the only venomous snake native to the UK. Their
numbers are in decline but they have conservation status and they are
protected in the UK under the Wildlife and Countryside Act, 1981.This
means that it is an offence to kill, harm, injure, sell or trade them. For many
conservationists, seeing adders on the brink of extinction is alarming and
they are working to save them through education and by setting aside
protected areas. In part, their decline is linked to the increasing numbers of
buzzards who after suffering themselves for decades are now returning in
greater numbers and will kill snakes when they have the opportunity.

How can I recognise an Adder?

Adults are roughly 50-60cm long and have a very distinctive black/brown
zigzag pattern along their back and V or X shaped marking on the back of
the head.

They hunt lizards and small mammals, as well as ground-nesting birds. In spring, male adders perform a 'dance' to attract the female and fend off competition to mate. Females incubate the eggs internally, 'giving birth' to three to twenty live young. Adders hibernate from October, emerging in the first warm days of March. 

They can be found across England, Wales and Scotland but are nots
commonly found in the south. Their preferred habitats are sand dunes,
rocky hillsides, moorland and woodland edges, where the shy adder can be
spotted basking in the sunshine in woodland glades and on heathlands.

Adder on a dog walk in the uk

Credit: Iain H

Are Adders dangerous for dogs and other pets?

Every year there are stories about adders being a danger to walkers, dogs
and young children but the reality is that only 12 people have died from
adder bites in the last 100 years.

That means you or your dog are far more likely to die from choking on a fish bone. The adder’s venom is generally of little danger to humans: an adder bite can be painful and cause a inflammation, but is really only dangerous to the very young, ill or old.

There are reports of adder bites each year but such attacks are rare and
most dogs make a full recovery. Snakes generally only bite in self-defence,
but they can protect themselves from inquisitive dogs and puppies.

What should I do if my dog is bitten?

Dog can and do survive. Between 96-97% of dogs will make a full recovery
from an adder bite. This will usually take up to 5 days with the right
treatment. These simple steps will give them a better chance.

1. Stay calm it will send signals to your dog to relax which is what we
2. Do not attempt first aid; you could make things worse. Especially if
you squeeze area or suck on the wound
3. If you can, carry your dog to your home, car or vets. You need to limit
the movement and prevent the venom from travelling around the
4. Take them to the vet as quickly as possible,
5. Don’t harm the snake, they are a protected species.

Most bites on dog walks seem to occur between April and July, most commonly
in the afternoon when the adders are disturbed while basking. Obviously if
you or any other human is bitten seek medical advice immediately.

August 01, 2023 — Robert Angell