HALE W18 Masthead

Snakes and pets: What to do

Jessica Conway

Damn right I am afraid of snakes. And if you live in Canberra, perhaps you should be too. Or at least aware. 

This time last year, I was visiting my beloved cat, Jeremy, in hospital every day following a brown snake bite.

I’ll never forget when I first saw him lying in the garage. Initially, I just thought it was because he was hot and was enjoying the cool concrete, but when I called his name and he didn’t pop up and bound towards me like usual I was instantly worried.

“Oh god, he’s dead,” I thought. I cautiously approached, a tiny meow and a tail twitch let me know he was still there. But barely. Compounding the situation, I only had my motorbike so I needed to find someone with a car – quickly. Miraculously holding panic at bay, I frantically called my dear old dad and he came to the rescue, car in tow.

Next, I began calling vets starting with those closest to me and describing the condition of my near lifeless cat. They thought it sounded like a snake bite, but couldn’t treat him. Thankfully, I was directed to a bigger clinic who usually have anti-venom on hand which would give Jeremy the best shot at survival. I called and alerted them of my pending arrival. Jeremy flopped across my lap; there was no risk of him causing any trouble in the car. He couldn’t even blink.

We were quickly seen in a consult room and discussed providing anti-venom. Despite the hefty price tag, I said to go for it. The vet came back with bad news. Just a half hour before, another cat, Albert, had come in with a brown snake bite as well. They’d used the last anti-venom on him.

So, Jeremy was going to have to do it the hard way, supported only by fluids and pain relief. I was glad for Albert, but selfishly resentful as well. (For the record, Albert got to go home the very next day). I asked, and was told of the multitude of horrible ways Jeremy could die.

  • The toxin causes paralysis so his entire respiratory system may freeze and he’d be unable to breathe.
  • It also works as an anti-blood clotting agent, so there was a chance he’d haemorrhage and bleed into his lungs.
  • As his little body tries to process the venom, it can cause kidney failure.

Every day for over a week I’d take in a new, smelly t-shirt of mine to place in Jeremy’s hospital cage. Anything to make it more homely and provide some reassurance. The little steps were huge; nurses no longer needing to lubricate his eyes because he could blink, increased tail movement, paw movement, head movement, a little wee. All major victories.

Jeremy recovering from his snakebite

A week on, I was allowed to take him home to see how he’d go. I was elated and terrified. He still wasn’t moving well, dragging himself along the ground with his front two legs. But he was able to eat some wet food and go to the loo, so I may as well get him away from all the smells and needles and tubes and thermometers up the butt. The weekend went well and Jeremy was home for good!

Day by day he continued to improve. He actually came on in leaps and bounds; those small steps turn into big ones quickly! He has since made a full recovery.

I live in Giralang; it’s in Belconnen about 15 minutes from Canberra’s CBD. With Canberra, designed as the Bush Capital, the house backs on to vacant bushland that divides my suburb from neighbouring Kaleen. While in winter the grass stays low and the eucalypts rustle and creak softly, in summer the grass reaches for my shoulders, dozens of crickets dart across the dry, split soil and the whole area crackles in the heat. Snakes, of all kinds, have been seen before.

Not even a month later, I found a brown snake in the house. Seriously. IN THE DARN HOUSE! Thankfully, it was small, even kind of cute, but no way was he going back on to the nature strip behind the house. Nor was a hammer going to deliver a swift blow to his head either. For one, all snakes are protected across Australia and cannot be killed unless threatening life. Secondly, the snake was just trying to do his thing and survive; it’s not his fault a house was plonked here.

I called ACT Parks and Wildlife and a lovely fellow came over within half an hour. Naturally, I was worried about mumma snake but was told as soon as babies hatch they go their separate ways, so if anything finding one so close was a good sign there wouldn’t be others. Good news, I guess?

To say I’ve been highly-strung, paranoid, obsessed with knowing where the pets are and their health status at all times this year is about right – but let’s call it hyper-vigilance. The yard has never been tidier. But the long grass over the fence continues to grow; the air still crackles in the heat and Jeremy keeps finding mice to bring to me as a gift. Which a) is sweet, but gross so please stop buddy and b) mice are a snake favourite, so I am hoping the adage of “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” won’t apply here.

Living in Australia can be risky, and there are some that are harder to avoid than others. A home on a grassy block and the presence of life-threatening native wildlife are part of my reality. I do what I can to keep Jeremy nearby and indoors as much as possible and provide a yard that is not attractive to snakes and cross my fingers.

For advice from RSPCA on signs of a snake bite click here.

TIPS FROM THE ACT GOVERNMENT TO REDUCE CHANCES OF CROSSING PATHS WITH A SNAKE

  • Keep lawns and gardens well maintained
  • Remove piles of wood or other debris from the yard or store it off the ground
  • Ensure pet food and water bowls are not accessible to wildlife
  • Enclose compost heaps to reduce mouse populations (a food source for snakes)
  • Tidy up aviaries as these attract mice and, in turn, snakes

For more information click here

IF YOU FIND A SNAKE THAT NEEDS REMOVAL, CALL

For more information click here.

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Jessica Conway

Jessica is a logophile. A lover of words. She always has been, childhood friends called her “the human dictionary”. Her passion of reading and writing has never waned, and she is one of the lucky few who makes a living from it. A born and bred Canberran, Jessica worked as a journalist eventually landing in Sydney. Sick of ‘the big smoke’ and eager to return home Jessica now lives in Belconnen, in a Tiny House with her (rescue) dog and cat. Hobbies include collecting square fridge magnets, casual drawing, recreational motorbike riding, haphazard rock climbing, fearless scuba diving, and devouring all things written. More about the Author

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