Spring and warm weather-what do I do if my dog gets bitten by an European Viper?

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Hoggorm - Vipera Berus

Our dog loves to sniff around and investigate their environment. When the warmth of spring arrives, nature comes alive, and the air is filled with a lot of lovely scents.

With its 70-220 million olfactory cells, the nose of a dog is an amazing tool. As such it provides your dog with a fascinating world to explore. Getting down in the ditches, digging around in the mud with the nose, into the shrubbery to investigate who has been there before. It is a real treasure throve.

The grass is fantastic for dogs. Our dog Nemi becomes “crazy” for every lawn or a large field of green grass she encounters while we are gong for a walk. She is rolling around in the grass and pushes her nose deep down into the ground. She is in heaven during those moments.

When trekking in the forest or in the highlands, Nemi is running all around, investigating her surroundings. What exciting adventures can be found in the nearest bush or in the tall grass? Well, some of the adventures are right out dangerous for her, like ticks and snakes. in Norway, we have just one poisonous snake, the Viper. So, when the spring has arrived and the weather is warm, what do I do if my dog gets bitten by a Viper?

I am not a medically trained individual. This blog post is meant as information only, the content needs to be checked further by you, the reader, for correctness. The source information for this blog post is primarily checked and taken from  World Wildlife Foundation (WWF)FirstVet, and Evidensia Animal Hospital. 

 If your dog gets bitten by a snake you have to contact your veterinarian immediately. The dog shall be taken to a veterinarian for treatment as quickly as possible

Facts about the Viper

Norway is home to a very few types of snakes due to the harsh climate. 3 snake species are living in Norway. These are the European Viper (Vipera Berus), the Grass snake ((Natrix Natrix) sometimes called the ringed snake or water snake), and the Smooth Snake (Coronella Austriaca).

The European Viper can become up to 90 cm long. The usual size is between 50 and 70 cm, The two genders of the snake are differentiated by appearance. The male snake is grey with a black pattern, while the female has a brownish color with a dark brown pattern

vipera-berusThe pattern for all the European Vipers is the characteristic zig-zag pattern, but you will also find Vipers, in Norway only, that is completely black (melanistic).

To identify the snakes from each other, you need firstly look for the clour and pattern of the snake. This can be difficult if you are not close enough. When you are close enough, you can see that the European Vipers has vertical pupils, while the Grass Snake which is often mistaken for a Viper, has round pupils.

Other hallmarks of the Viper is its triangular head. The Grass Snake´s head is smaller and the shape is rounder than the Viper´s head.

The European Viper is not to be found everywhere n Norway. Its habitat stretches from Sothern-Norway to Middle-Norway up to the tree line in the highlands. It thrives in areas with dense vegetation, shrubbery, stone fences and scree (heap of stones)

Risk of Getting Bitten by the European Viper

The European Viper is not an aggressive snake by nature. It only bites when it is feeling threatened and is afraid of both dogs and humans. Its poison is used to provide food and digest what it has eaten. If you suddenly encounter a Viper, surprises it, it may bite you in self-defense. But, usually, there is no poison injected with the bite

This is because it is a big job for the viper to produce poison. It saves poison by self-defense to have poison left for food hunting. Young snakes are not good at portioning the amount of venom, so it may be more dangerous to be bitten by young snakes than adult vipers.

The risk of being bitten by a viper depends on where you go. If you travel in the areas where the adder normally thrives, there is always a risk.

The risk also depends, of course, on the weather and at which time of the day you go on a trip. During the day, the adder is active and if the weather is warm and it has been a mild winter, the chances are greater than otherwise.

Symptoms and possible consequences if Your dog is Bitten by a Viper 

If your dog is bitten by a viper, it is necessary to get to the vet as soon as possible. Although it is not always poison in the bite of the viper, the bite is painful for your dog.

Dogs are often bitten in the face since they sniff on the ground to orient themselves or bitten in their legs. The most critical of these 2 is a bite in the legs. When bitten in the legs the poison will spread faster due to better blood circulation in the legs.

  • The First symptoms will be whimpering and whining and running away.
  • After a while, the dog kan get markedly quick exhausted
  • Swelling of the leg/legs or the nose can appear already after 30 minutes and get pretty large.
  • Tenderness and redness around where on its body the dog is bitten

These are the most common symptoms and will lead to no further consequences for your dog. In the most severe cases, where the dogs get the full dose of poison in the website form the Viper, the poison will spread to the rest of the body and cause bleeding from its skin and mucous membranes. If allowed to develop further, the poison will start to damage internal organs and lead to the following symptoms:

  • Loss of consciousness
  • rapid and irregular pulse rhythm

If the dog is not treated in time the outcome will be fatal as the dogs’ internal organs will fail.

Immediate actions if your dog is bitten by a European Viper

If your dog has been bitten by a European Viper, do the following:

  • Keep the dog calm. Don´t let run around. The best thing is to carry your dog.
  • Do not bandage or use adhesives on the bite
  • Do not try to suck out the poison or squeeze the area where the dog is bitten.
  • Seek help from a veterinarian immediately

There is no time to lose! You do not know how much poison the dog has been injected with through the bite. 

Cortisone can be recommended by your veterinarian before you get there to reduce discomfort and increase your dog’s pain threshold. This should not be given without the recommendation of a veterinarian.

At the Animal Hospital- What kind of treatment is given to your dog? 

Behandling av hund for huggormbitt

When you have arrived at the animal hospital the dog will be given intravenous fluids and pain relief. The vet will take blood samples to monitor your dog’s blood values and monitor the function of the heart. Usually, venom antiserum or anti-venom will also be administered. This will be decided by the veterinarian if it is necessary.

The treatment will be followed-up during the weeks after the treatment due to the risk of late effects of the poison. In the time after the snake bite and the following treatment, the dog must be following a strict regime of rest to recuperate in the order of 10-14 days(Evidensia).

Treatment with antiserum is very expensive. It is recommended that you try to prevent high expenses if your pet is getting sick. Pet insurance is essential both for the pet and you. If not the consequences could lead to physical distress for the dog and economical catastrophe for yourself. 

Some animal Hospital offers its customers with an expense account which allows you to do a downpayment of all your expenses. One single dose of antiserum has a price tag of 3500,- Nkr. That is only for the antiserum and not the rest of the treatment.

Preventive measures – is it possible to prevent being bitten by the European Viper?

The only way to prevent snakebites is to be vigilant and alert when trekking or going for a walk. In which kind of area are you doing the dog walks or trekking? Is this an area where the living conditions for the Viper is perfect?

On hot days, during spring and summer, the European Viper enjoys soaking up the warmth from rocks or from the road which is heated by the sun. Further, be alert and vigilant where the vegetation is dense with shrubbery and grass.

Noen tanker til slutt

Our dogs love to be out in the open. Fresh air and the feeling of freedom and fun is mentally and physically essential for your dogs well being. These factors are ingredients for a good life for both the dog and the owner. 

But some dangers are lurking around in paradise. It is always advised to be prepared and know what to do if you encounter these dangers.

Hunder leker i skogen

Be aware of where your dog is at all times. Acquire knowledge about where the European Viper normally lives and keep tight control of your dog in these areas. Remember that the European Viper is protected in Norway and that it is required to use a dog leash in Norway between 1st April and 20th August.

Stings and bites from other animals and insects are always a risk. Dogs love to roam and investigate their surroundings. Due to this, it is easy to suddenly get bitten by a snake or stung by insects.

When bitten by the European Viper it is critical to get immediate help to avoid a fatal outcome. Keep your dog calm and get to an animal hospital or veterinarian as quickly as possible.

Make sure you have the contact information to the closest veterinarian with you at all times. 

4 thoughts on “Spring and warm weather-what do I do if my dog gets bitten by an European Viper?”

  1. I love my dog, and remember there was a time when we lived in the bushveld here in South Africa when snakes in particular tree snakes and black mambas were very common. I was always afraid that my baby would get bitten, because there were no vets nearby, and the first thought is always “Suck out the venom”. Thank goodness I never did that because it would have been the wrong thing to do. Thank you for the information, it can really save some lives. 

    • Hi Charne for taking the time to read my article and provide your thoughts about the topic.  Your own experience as a dog owner is interesting. We don´t have that type of snakes in Norway. Being bitten by a black mamba is certain death as I have understood from reading about them. They are very poisonous.

      Is it correct that they are very aggressive as well, or is that impression completely wrong?

  2. This is a very comprehensive, informative and practically useful article on what to do in the event your pet is bitten by a venomous snake. I say informative because I did not know that the adult viper saves venom for its survival and is likely to reserve it for its survival while the younger viper is not so discriminate therefore the more likely source of the poisonous bite as an example. Your pointers regarding being vigilant when out with your dogs are extremely practically useful and helpful. To chime in with the comments, I can assure you the life of a dog in Europe is completely different than the life of a dog in Africa. There you cannot afford to take the risk of walks every day. Fortunately, the gardens are very large and the only relatively safe environments for them to run free is the beach. Even then vigilance is required as there are areas where trees and bushland occur and the best way is to keep them near the water’s edge and beach proper. Thank you for a very interesting and useful article.


    • I can imagine that the life of a dog in Africa is completely different considering the fauna Africa has. In my wife´s hometown in Turkey, I was surprised to know the types of snakes that were living in that area. During some periods of the year, you have to be very very careful about going outside in special areas. The reason is a huge population of very aggressive and poisonous snakes. And they are big and moving very quickly. I saw one of these snakes one time passing over the beach walk some hundred meters away from her childhood home. I can only imagine our little 4 legged charmers facing one of these big snakes.

      Thank you for your contribution to the topic of the article. Your view is highly appreciated.



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