Poisonous Bites: Snakes & Spiders
No matter what season, nor if you’re outdoors or inside, you may encounter creepy crawlies in search of shelter or food. And unfortunately, these creatures don’t usually mesh well with a cat or a dog. Pet parent Kara remembers her pup, Toby, falling mysteriously ill in February 2018: “My parents noticed that Toby wasn’t feeling well, and that he kept leaning on my mom, pushing his ear into her. We took him to the nearest vet and they misdiagnosed him with an ear infection. The next few days, Toby was just going downhill. We took him back to the same vet and he said it was a psychological thing and didn’t give him a physical examination.”
Kara was beside herself as Toby was getting worse. “The next day Toby still felt awful. I took him to his regular vet who diagnosed him – he had a huge infection in his neck that was most likely caused by a spider bite – but they couldn’t rule out spider or snake bite! His infection was necrotic and he had a large open wound under his neck.” Toby was at the vet for almost two weeks while he recovered. Kara was reimbursed $3,749 of the $5,078 in vet bills that accrued, and Toby has since returned to demanding belly rubs: “He loves attention and getting belly rubs. If you aren’t petting him he will paw at you until you continue to pet him!”
While Kara can’t pinpoint exactly when Toby was bit, she now knows what signs to look for. Here are other symptoms and recommendations should your pet be bitten by either a spider or a snake.
Symptoms of a Poisonous Bite
Sometimes you’re not sure if your dog or cat has ingested a toxic food or substance or if they’ve had a run-in with a poisonous pest. The symptoms are remarkably similar: dilated pupils, drooling or foaming at the mouth, rapid heartbeat, nosebleeds, seizures and abnormal behavior. Additionally, there are other physical symptoms that are likely to be present:
- Presence of a bite or puncture wound
- Skin that is inflamed:
- Red, swollen, and/or hot to the touch
- Necrotic (dying, blackened epidermis)
- Sign of infection
If you encounter your pet displaying any of these signs, call the Pet Poison Helpline and be ready to describe the incident, as well as any symptoms (note: your Healthy Paws policy covers poison hotline charges).
Most household spiders are not considered poisonous, however there are two that are very dangerous and are common to North America: the black widow and brown recluse spider. If you see your dog or cat playing with a spider, quickly move your pet to a different area and watch for the above symptoms. Vets and scientists recommend moving the spider to a more environmentally-friendly location (and away from humans and animals).
Symptoms of a black widow bite:
- Severe muscle pain and cramping
- Walking “drunk,” i.e. swaying and loss of balance
- Seizures and tremors
- Blood pressure changes
- Vomiting and diarrhea
Just like humans, black widow spiders are very dangerous and poisonous to dogs and cats. They’re found all over North America with the exception of Alaska, and females are larger and much more toxic (males are generally considered non-toxic because of their small fangs). Urgent treatment is necessary as your vet will need to administer an antivenom, IV fluids, anti-seizure medications, anti-inflammatories and hospitalization. This could be a fatal situation depending on the time lapsed and size of pet.
Symptoms of a brown recluse bite:
- Bleeding disorders (e.g., bruising, abnormal clotting tests)
- Organ damage (e.g., liver, kidneys)
- Severe skin wound and necrotic tissue
The brown recluse spider is traditionally found throughout the Midwest region of the United States and sometimes in the Southwest. The venom in brown recluse spiders varies tremendously so one spider may be more toxic than the next. There is no antivenom for this poison, and vets will treat symptoms and admit the pet for hospitalization. Depending on the strength of the toxin in the spider, this can be a fatal bite.
Snakes can be found almost everywhere in the world but especially in tropical and desert climates. If you are planning on traveling with your dog to an area that is known to have snakes, do some research prior to know what species are in the area. If you live in an area with predatory and poisonous snakes, keep cats inside and dogs on a leash when they are outside.
Prevent outdoor interactions with snakes by:
- Avoiding areas with low shrubbery that can conceal snakes easily and in tropical areas, remember that aquatic snakes can pose a threat. Prevent your dog from wandering into undergrowth that could be hiding snakes. Even when camping and hiking, leashing your dog can prevent snakebites.
- Making sure your dog obeys the command, “Come!” If a snake does cross your dog’s path, it’s important for you to immediately recall your dog – and for them to oblige.
If your dog is bitten by a poisonous snake, he will need immediate veterinary attention. Unfortunately, very small dogs and cats run the risk of being consumed by larger snakes. Depending on where you live, a rattlesnake bite vaccine may be available, however chat with your vet about it first.
Poisonous snake bites can be distinguished by two deep fang marks at the area of the snakebite. Symptoms include bruising, swelling or bleeding of the puncture site, nausea and vomiting, weakness, and difficulty breathing. Healthy Paws recommends the following with snake bites:
- Do not attempt to release or remove the venom by cutting into the wound
- Do keep your dog calm and try to restrict his or her movement. This can slow the spread of the venom.
- Do not try tosuck out the poison
- Do not attempt to apply a tourniquet yourself if you aren’t sure how to do so
- Do try to remember the species of the snake so you can tell the vet
- Do not apply ice to the swelling caused by the snakebite.
All snake bites will need veterinary attention, as it is a wound that will need care. Poisonous snakebites will require antivenom/antivenin.
The best thing to do for your pets is to prevent snake and spider bites, however that’s easier said than done. In the event of an emergency, act quickly and take your pet to a veterinarian right away.
Emergencies caused by snake and spider bites need quick thinking and action. By enrolling in pet insurance you can save up to 90% on vet bills, so you can say “yes” to life-saving procedures at the vet and get the critical care your pet needs. Start by getting a free quote.