As we move into late spring and summer we are likely to start seeing adders on walks around the local commons and each year we treat a number of dogs for adder bites. Adders are the only poisonous snake native to Britain and southwest Surrey with its large heathlands has a high concentration of them. Adders are protected by law in Great Britain against being killed, injured, sold or traded in any way. They are active during the day, spending time basking until their body temperature is high enough to hunt for food. They produce young in August or September which are miniature versions of their parents but about the size of an earthworm
Adders can be variable in colour, but typically the background colour differs in males and females. Males tend towards a grey, whitish, occasionally yellowish colour. The females tend to be brownish with considerable variation of shade and occasional hints of red or yellow. Their markings however are very similar and extremely easy to identify, consisting of a heavy dark zigzag pattern down the back with dark spots in rows on the flanks. At the back of the head there is a heavy “V” or “X” shaped marking and a dark band running from behind each eye.
Adders are not aggressive snakes, and will only attack if harassed or threatened. Their bites are generally not fatal in humans or dogs with quick and appropriate treatment (the last human death was over 20 years ago). Dogs are usually bitten on the feet or on the face because they investigate the strange object. If bitten, dogs quickly become depressed and the area will swell, become painful and bruised. It is important to get treatment as soon as possible. To enable the most effective treatment we keep anti-venom in the surgery all the time. There are no first aid measures that need to be taken before getting to the surgery, although if your dog is small enough then carrying them to avoid walking on the leg is a good idea. Use of tourniquets can cause too much damage to the leg so should be avoided.