54 – The Proverbial “Snake In The Grass”

Paul’s father, Peter, and Esmé recently came for a week’s visit.  We were busy preparing for our first set of paying guests, which meant clearing out all of our personal belongings from both apartments, and making sure that they are fully kitted out as independent units.

One lunchtime Louise realised that one of the “terrible twins”, namely Cara, was barking strangely at a clump of grass and a bush near to the gate of the main dog pen, not very far from the house.  The other dogs were crowded around and jumping back periodically.  Paul was sent to investigate what was causing their strange behaviour, closely followed by Deefer.

Thinking it might be a snake Paul asked Dad to pass him something with a long handle, who quickly grabbed a garden hoe, which proved ideal for the task.  As Peter passed the implement down to Paul  to see Deefer jumping swiftly backwards. Paul then pushed aside the clump of grass to reveal a snake, and he knew at once it was a “Meadow Viper” coiled and once again ready to strike.  Paul pushed it with the hoe at which point Deefer decided to grab it, violently shake it and toss it up in the air.  The snake fell upside down to the bottom of a bank with Deefer in hot pursuit.  Paul lent over the bank and held the snake just behind the head with the blade of the hoe.  Deefer grabbed the snake once again, causing the viper’s head to become separated from the rest of its body, and Deefer ran off with it triumphantly, periodically shaking the rest of the snake’s remains into pieces.

We decided that that had been quite enough excitement for the time being and decided to go in for a spot of lunch.  However Paul came in looking very worried, saying that something was very wrong with Deefer.  We hastily went to see him.  Deefer was laying down, was confused, panting for breath and drewling at the mouth.  We looked more closely we could see some puncture marks near his nose  –  We realised that he had been bitten by the viper.

We immediately rang our Itri vet for advice.  He told us that we had to go to the chemist and ask them for some “Anti-Venom Serum”, and that this had to be administered within 12 hours of being bitten.  Of course with it being lunchtime, the shops were all shut, including the chemists.

The vet said he couldn’t come immediately because he attending a conference in Formia, but told us to keep a eye on the dog and to ring him if his condition deteriorated. Within the half hour we phoned the vet again, as Deefer seemed to be getting increasingly breathless.  This time the vet said he would immediately drive to his surgery in Itri and we were to meet him there in 15 minutes. The vet checked the dog’s vital signs.  Deefer’s pupils were very dilated and unreactive, because of the proximity of the bite on the head, the poison had gone straight to his brain. His heart sounded relatively good but his lungs were not doing so well which was causing the shortage of breath. The poison can also prevent the blood from clotting normally which can lead to internal bleeding and other related problems. The vet gave him several injections to help counteract the immediate reaction to the poison.  From what we understood, from our “not perfect” Italian, it seems that the venom causes the arteries to dilate and therefore lowers the blood pressure. 

The vet instructed us to go the local pharmacy in Itri to purchase the relevant Anti-Venom Serum, so around 4pm Paul and his Dad set out on this quest.  Our friends at the pharmacy in Itri were most concerned as to our predicament. They said there had been a change in the Law which meant that local pharmacies were no longer able to stock the anti-serum, only internal hospital pharmacies were allowed to keep it.  The pharmacist kindly phoned the vet to see if he could suggest an alternative.  He suggested that they went down to the hospital in Formia to see if they could obtain some serum for veterinary use.  Within the hospital Paul was shuttled between 5 different departments, ending up at “Pronto Soccorso” / Accident and Emergency.  A doctor, while he complained to a nurse why he was being troubled by such trivia, suggested brusquely that Paul should go to the pharmacy at the entrance to the hospital.  Paul diligently trudged there but once again to no avail.

Paul then phoned the vet to ask what to do next.  The vet told him to come straight to the surgery and he would have to administer a generic, non-specific anti-venom treatment instead.  The vet was truly concerned and explained that this medication had to be administered by injection every 12 hours for the next 3 days, plus numerous antibiotic injections. For several days Deefer was very poorly indeed and did not want to eat, we really thought we were going to lose him. 



Finally on the vet’s advice we managed to hand feed him small pieces of raw meat.  His mouth and nose still seemed to be very painful following the bite, apparently in some cases the snake bite can become infected, even turn gangrenous. Slowly, day by day Deefer began to show some signs of improvement and he is gradually getting back to his old self, though still lacks energy. Now he just needs to take tablets to help his liver recover.

Needless to say this has been a costly experience !!! We cannot thank our Vet enough for his kindness and dedication in his treatment of Deefer, and Dad for kindly helping us out with some of the expense of it all.  Also, thanks once again to Joan for your kind contribution and continued support.

We carried out a little research on the internet :

The Vipera Ursinii / Meadow Viper is a slender snake which can grow up to 60 cm long. The one that bit Deefer was light grey in colour with a zig-zag pattern down its back and a triangular head.  It uses its bite to kill its prey and eats  mainly beetles, grasshoppers, lizards & small rodents but does not always use its venom.

photo of viper by luca panciera

photo of viper by luca panciera

We also discovered that there seems to be a worldwide shortage of Viper Anti-Venom Serum which may explain why it is not readily available, especially for use in treating animals. Anti-venoms are prepared by immunizing horses or other animals with small quantities of the venom from poisonous snakes.  Gradually the animal’s system starts to build up a resistance to the toxins and begins to produce antibodies. Eventually the serum can be extracted and purified

We also discovered that viper serum is used in certain anti-aging skin care products which are used as an alternative to Botox.  The cream is said to reduce the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles, by causing the muscles to relax and paralyze.  How bizarre !!!

* Thanks to our kind friend Luca Panciera, who is a professional photographer in Itri, for allowing us to use his great photo.



5 thoughts on “54 – The Proverbial “Snake In The Grass”

  1. This had to be an awful experience for all of you! The biggest drawback for me are the crazy laws and rules for medical care in Italy compared to elsewhere – we have endured some strange issues (too long to detail here of course) that family have suffered through in treating various eventually terminal illnesses. Yet a doctor came almost immediately to see me at the home of a nephew when I was suffering from walking pneumonia! Strange?
    Those vipers are the one thing al of our Itri family seem to fear – they all use walking sticks on their hikes into the fields and mountains!

  2. Ciao Luisa and Paolo and Deefer!

    It is first thing in the Friday AM here and I am reading this with cafe in hand – I was on the EDGE of my seat…………..anxiety turned to horror and fear as I read Deefer’s terrible ordeal…….sacrificing his life to save the others – and the running around by Paul to get help – all the while the clock is ticking – my lord!!!!!!!!!!! The poor boy – I would have been beside myself……I hope Deefer is now mending and will soon get his old self back after a harrowing ordeal! Ziggy has his paws folded in prayer with a big tear rolling down his furry cheek………………..Lots of pets for Deefer and hugs for all of you! Loruccia

  3. PS I forgot to say: Ziggy reminded me that any remaining scars after recovery will be considered badges of honour!

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