Dos and don’ts when your dog gets bitten by a snake on vacation

Imagine you have just started a perfect road trip you were planning for the past month. The air seems so fresh, the surrounding landscape is so stunning, and your worries and sorrows are so gone. This was us, on the very second day of our escapade around the Baltic Sea. It also happened to be my 30th birthday, so I was preparing for a pleasant evening, with a can of flavored beer in my hand, and a bunch of deep thoughts in my head. We were waiting for a ferry that was supposed to transport us through the Åland archipelago, to the main island. Relaxed, envisioning the about-to-happen cruise with the views we were longing for. And then it happened. Our paradise collapsed in a second.

Small mixed breed dog sitting on the flat rock on Aland Islands
Fabio a few hours before the snakebite

Save the snake

Half an hour before the scheduled ferry ride, we took Fabio for a short walk. We already enjoyed the nature trail that day, with tall grass, flat rocks, and a watchtower. So this was just a quick potty walk as there is no dog toilet on the ferry and the ride takes 2h30. Having explored the nearby patches of grass, we decided to cross the road to see the baby swans we spotted before. And there it was. A stick, lying on the road, inviting Fabio to play fetch with it. Our dog accepted the invitation, approached the stick, and started sniffing it. Unexpectedly, the stick performed a very sudden move. All three of us were bewildered, but we already knew it was, unfortunately, not a stick. It was a snake.

Snake that bit our dog
The common European viper or, in this case, our worst nightmare

Since we were vacationing, we still didn’t suspect any danger. What could possibly go wrong? We pulled Fabio as far from the snake as possible, made a fast check and got an impression the dog was O.K., just a little frightened. We were almost sure the snake did not bite him and only tried to scare the enemy away. As we are big animal-lovers, we even felt sorry for the poor snake, chilling in the middle of the road that would soon be full of cars boarding the ferry. So we decided to save the little creature’s life and, using a real stick this time, Javier convinced it to go off the road. Would we still save the snake if we realized the terrible truth? We prefer not to think about it that way.

Don’t panic

Having come back to the car, I noticed two drops of blood on Fabio’s snout. Snakebite was my first thought, but then I remembered we were also walking through the thick bushes and some of them had thorns. We proceeded to serve dog lunch, as it was about the time. But he refused to eat. Or to drink. And this is where the panic started. Fabio has never refused food before unless his life was endangered (which, according to our dog, happens every time we visit the vet). Two worst questions popped up in our minds:

  • Did the snake actually bite Fabio?
  • Could the snake possibly be venomous?

We started sending photos of the snake (fortunately, we took some) to anybody we knew who has ever been in nature. The answers varied. My friend said it might have been a viper while my mom said we were paranoid dog parents, but we should evacuate away from the snake, just in case.

Disinfect the wound

During our last visit to Poland, I have bought Octenisept, disinfectant medicine recommended on every Facebook group for dog lovers I belong to. Fortunately, I packed it into our first aid kit. I must admit, my mom was right calling us paranoid dog parents. Even though I bought it thinking about possible Fabio’s accidents, I decided to test it on myself first. Since I am a clumsy chef, an opportunity appeared soon after the purchase, when I entered the kitchen. Therefore, when I saw blood on Fabio’s snout, I already knew it was safe to use Octenisept, as it does not hurt when applied on an open wound. And so I did.

Remove anything that bothers your dog

Still sitting in the car, having a continuous panic attack, we noticed Fabio’s neck started swelling. From that moment on, we knew for sure our dog got bitten by the snake. I immediately removed all the gear installed on his neck, consisting of a standard collar, an anti-parasitic collar, and a harness. I also thank my paranoia for not letting me put the dog in his cage, as he would start choking soon.

Head toward the nearest veterinary clinic

In the meantime, Javier was already looking for the nearest veterinary clinic. And I must say, the odds were not in our favor. At the time of the accident, we were on the Torsholma island. Saying it was small is like not saying anything. It was a dead-end. We had been hanging there for the whole day and did not spot a single shop, not to mention a human with medical education. The nearest veterinary clinic was FIVE ISLANDS AWAY, in a small town of Godby. In order to reach it, we would need to take the scheduled ferry we were waiting for, and another one afterward. In total, it would take a minimum of 3 hours to reach the clinic. Fortunately, we decided to make a call first. The receptionist, who picked up the phone, was not surprised at all a dog got bitten by a snake. I guess such accidents happen on the Åland Islands daily. The talk was very informative, but we also learned we would not reach this clinic in time and got advised to turn back and head toward Turku, a big city in mainland Finland.

Screenshot of a map showing the distance between Aland Islands and Turku in mainland Finland
The distance between Torsholma and Turku on a map

Don’t let your dog move

We were not sure what exactly did the sentence “you will not reach here in time” mean. It could mean the clinic would be closed by then and nobody was willing to wait for us, but at that very moment, we only had one explanation in our heads: Fabio would die on the way. If I wasn’t crying already, I would start then. We were also told the dog should move as little as possible so that the venom wouldn’t spread. So I put Fabio on my laps, fastened my seatbelt, hugged him and froze in one position.

Drive fast, but safe

A drive between Torsholma and Turku takes 3h20 minutes if you are lucky enough to reach ferries on time. Yes, there are two ferries on the way. With Javier driving on the edge of the speed limit, Fabio on my laps and tears in my eyes, I could barely read the ferry schedule on my phone. But there was no turning back. The ferry to the main island we were supposed to take was leaving while we were trying to reach the one in the opposite direction. There were so many things that could go wrong. We could get stranded on this island for few more hours. We could be refused to board if there were enough cars already. Ready to pay ten times the ferry fee or bribe whoever was in charge, we drove these 20 kilometers in no time. We managed! The ferry was ready to leave, and we were admitted on board.

Don’t google too much

The most challenging task was accomplished – we reached the first ferry. We won a battle, but the war was not over. The ferry ride takes 40 minutes. Considering the circumstances, these 40 minutes seemed an eternity. The vet receptionist we were on the phone with moments ago, said we couldn’t do anything but drive and keep the dog still. So, as any responsible millennial would do in our situation, we started googling. That was the worst thing we could do. Almost every snakebite related article mentioned these two facts:

  • The smaller the dog, the fewer chances it has to survive.
  • The dog needs to reach the veterinary clinic in less than two hours after the bite.

Fabio is a small dog. He weighs less than 7 kilograms. No matter how hard we were trying, reaching the veterinary clinic in Turku in less than 2 hours was simply impossible. Math is cruel.

Don’t nag your dog all the time

We were trying to cheer Fabio up. Incorrect! We were trying to cheer ourselves up, by nagging our dog, who was in pain. Both Javier and I were talking to Fabio constantly, convincing him he was strong, and he could make it. We didn’t let him sleep and were continuously checking whether he was still breathing. But the worst thing we did, was touching his swollen neck and the bite spot on the snout. Two holes, imprinted by the evil snake’s poisonous teeth, were already well-visible at that moment.

Don’t bury your dog alive

The longest 40 minutes of our lives were over. We left the ferry and drove 6 kilometers to the next one. Fortunately, the last ferry was the shortest one. Reaching the opposite shore took less than 10 minutes. We were now in Kustavi, and only 70 kilometers separated us from Turku. You may think that was nothing, half an hour with the highway. But there was no highway. There was a national road with a speed radar installed every few kilometers.

The mythical two hours after the bite already passed, and we still had more than an hour of driving ahead. Fabio got more swollen, and he wanted to sleep. I let him lie down on the floor, but he could not find the right position, as he was in pain. This was the first time ever we saw our dog suffering. Our hearts were broken, and we knew we couldn’t soothe his pain. The feeling was terrible. Even though he was still breathing fine, these two hours that just passed were in our heads. We knew we were running out of time. Fabio’s life was in real danger.

Organize some extra cash

Turku is the hub of snakebites treatment in Finland. On one hand, it means the veterinary clinics are well-prepared. On the other hand, the snake density in the region must be high. I wish I read about it when preparing the trip plan. I would organize a dog toilet in the car and never took Fabio for a walk. He would be miserable either way.

We finally reached the clinic. Considering the time it took us to realize our dog got bitten by the snake before we started driving, it was already almost four hours later. According to Doctor Google, it was also two hours too late. We ran out of the car and rushed through the clinic door. There was a receptionist talking to a corgi’s parents. We looked at their dog’s paw wrapped up in a bandage and felt sorry for the pooch. They looked at Fabio’s neck and felt sorry, too. I imagined Fabio’s case was an emergency, and we would, therefore, be asked to run directly to the treatment room and do the formalities afterward. I was wrong.

Receptionist: Dog passport, please.

I produced the document.

An eternity later:

R: Put your dog on the scales, please.

Karolina (having in mind he should keep still): He is 6,8 kg, we weighed him two days ago (we visited the vet then as you need to deworm your dog before entering Finland).

R: Put him on the scales anyway.

The scales showed 5,4 kg.

K: He was 6,8 kg two days ago, this reading must be wrong.

The receptionist changed something on the scales.

R: Put him on the scales again.

It showed the correct weigh this time.

R: What is your name?

Javier handed his ID.

R: Your address?

K: Tallinn, Estonia

R: Street?

I told her the street name with resignation. She corrected my pronunciation.

R: Would you check if I put the correct data?

We still don’t understand why was it so important to have the exact address of a foreign patient. It may have something to do with the possible future insurance claim. As Fabio is not insured (it is not common to have your dog insured in Estonia, and there are no significant benefits of such) we were going to cover the invoice ourselves.

We were, eventually, invited to the treatment room. The vet confirmed the snakebite and told us about the treatment. We were lucky Finland has a high standard veterinary service. We were unlucky Finland is one of the most expensive countries in Europe. The vet asked us if we would agree to give Fabio serum, in case he had difficulties breathing. Astonishment appeared on our faces. Did she just ask permission to save our dog’s life? And so she hurried with explanations: I need to ask this, as the price of the serum is 480 euros. Indeed, it was a fortune. However, if this was the price for Fabio’s life, we were ready to pay even more.

We were asked to leave our dog in the clinic for three hours, as he needed to be given the drips. Unfortunately, the vet did not allow us to stay with him. At this point, it seemed like it did not matter to Fabio anyway.

Dog bitten by snake, with swollen neck and snout
Fabio in the veterinary clinic in Turku

Let your dog rest

Two hours later, we came back to the clinic. We were informed the serum was not needed, and we could finally see our dog and accompany him for the last drip. A nurse brought Fabio, even more swollen than before, to the room. He looked miserable and didn’t even find the strength to wave his tail. We decided the vacation was over, and we would go back to Tallinn the next day. But then we talked to the vet. She said Fabio, despite looking battered, was fine, and only needed one or two days of rest. It was hard to believe. We asked whether we should come back to the clinic the following day or give Fabio more painkillers. And we got reassured he would be O.K. and ready to continue the trip.

And so we did. The very same day, we were back to the Åland Islands. We arrived on the main island the day after, so we knew we could reach the vet within 30 minutes if needed. It was a lazy day. Fabio was chilling a lot. Two days later, as the Finnish vet promised, the swelling was almost gone. Three weeks later, according to the vet’s instructions, we did the blood test. Fabio had recovered totally and he was ready for the new adventures.

Dog bitten by snake one day after the accident
Fabio a day after the snakebite

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