Poisonous Bites and Stings
Depending upon where you live geographically, there are risks of bites and stings to your cats that can cause discomfort to death. There are species of insects, reptiles and amphibians, that can cause poisoning or discomfort via bite, sting or attempted ingestion or ingestion. While not a complete list of possible venomous species, this article will allow the reader to recognize signs and symptoms of bites or stings in order to minimize toxins and get veterinarian care quickly to save the life of your cat and minimize toxin related injuries.
The cat by its curious nature and hunting instincts is at risk for bites and stings. They stalk, bat, smell, chase and attempt to ingest these fascinating, potentially poisonous “prey”. As a result of this feline behavior, injury will often occur but not limited to, the face, mouth, feet and legs. It would not be uncommon however to find wounds elsewhere as the feline might decide to duck or run at the last minute or the cat was totally unaware of danger and a sneak attack occurred.
It is highly recommended to become familiar with the poisonous species in your region. Be aware of habitats or areas that are inclined to attract these species. Despite knowledge and cautions, accidents are bound to happen. However, being knowledgeable can greatly reduce the likelihood of bites and stings.
If at all possible capturing the suspected culprit for proper identification is important, however, it is not recommended to attempt to catch poisonous snakes or lizards. The danger to your self can be extreme. It is better to familiarize yourself with the species in your area in order that you can make an educated guess as to which species has bitten or stung your cat.
There are many contradictions as to just how poisonous each species is. Myself I have approached this article erring on the side of caution. I feel it is better to be aware, alert and ready in the case of toxins and possible sensitivities.
Depending upon the species, different toxins come into play, the symptoms will vary and different body systems are affected. There are several types of toxins; Cardioactive (affecting the heart), Hemotoxins (blood clotting), Hemorrhagins (damage blood vessels), Hemolysins (damage red blood cells), Necrotoxins (tissue death), Myotoxins (damage muscle), Neurotoxins (paralysis and nervous system), and Vasoactive (dialation or constricture of blood vessels). There can be other toxins at play as well combinations of the listed toxins. http://www.kingsnake.com/toxinology/ (the good stuff is on the left-hand scroll bar) Some have anti toxins available but diagnosis is critical before administration of the antivenin.
Insects (Bees, Hornets, Wasps and Ants)
Most insect stings or bites cause mild to severe discomfort and swelling at the site, but are typically not deadly unless the cat has been repeatedly stung/bitten or has anaphylactic shock or an allergic reaction. There are however, some species that have more severe and possibly life threatening toxins.
If the cat is stung in the mouth it is urgent to get the cat to the vet asap as the swelling of the throat and tongue can restrict the ability to breathe.
Anaphylaxis and Allergic reactions
These symptoms typically appear within 20 minutes. The quicker the onset of the symptoms the more serious the condition.
If the cat is restless, agitated, face scratching, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea, difficulty in breathing, the swelling is severe or off colored (minor redness is to be expected) collapse or seizures seek medical attention asap.
The Honey Bee (Bumble Bees, African Honey Bee) can only sting once and the stinger is often retained at the site pumping more venom into the cat. It can be removed by scraping it off with a credit card, do not use tweezers, as you are apt to empty the venom sac into the sting site. Allergic reaction should be watched for and if the cat was attacked by more than one bee such as in a hive situation or an insect that can sting/bite repeatedly medical treatment should be sought. It is often hard to find the stings and bites with the hair coat. Inside the mouth, paws and face are the most likely culprit area to look. Honey Bees are not aggressive other than to defend the nest. They will sting however, if provoked.
Treatment: Remove stinger, and watch for allergic reaction or anaphylactic shock. Ice packs can help relieve pain and swelling. Later calamine or Cortaid can help relieve the itching. Be sure your cat does not ingest these and do not apply in the mouth or around the eyes. Antihistamines, such as Benadryl can be given to reduce the reaction. Please consult your vet for dosage. Some home remedies may help and are safe, vinegar wash or baking soda paste applied to the sting.
Wasps (Mud Daubers, Paper, Yellow Jackets and Hornets)
Can sting multiple times and can also bite taking a small chunk of skin. They are very aggressive in defending nests, which can be in the ground, in rotten or hollow logs, in a paper like nest in limbs of trees or bushes, mud nests within or on structures such as buildings. Yellow Jackets are attracted to food and garbage and become quiet voracious late summer and early fall. Because Wasp and Hornets can sting multiple times and control the amount of venom injected wasp stings can be more severe than that of the Honey-Bee.
Treatment: Wash the sting with soap and water, apply ice pack and consult your vet for antihistamines, watch for anaphylactic shock. A home remedy is a sliced onion applied to the sting site (I doubt this would injure the cat, as it is not being ingested) or a paste of baking soda.
There are over 750 species of ants in the untied states. It is impossible to cover them all! Most ants are non-aggressive or do not bit or sting with venom. Some can pinch with mandibles but have no toxins. Most ant bites and stings are similar to Bee and Wasp stings and can be treated as such. Below are some ants that can have more serious consequences and should have medical treatment it is wise to watch for anaphylaxis as any bite or sting as the cat could be sensitive to the venom.
Field Ants can deliver formic acid into a bite and causes pain for a few hours. Typically no treatment other than alleviating pain as in bee stings.
Velvety Tree Ant A very aggressive ant found in southwestern states. It does not sting but has venomous bite resulting in a severe stinging, painful sensation.
Ants are found in southwestern states and moving west. They are
highly aggressive! Symptoms of fire ant stings include burning and itching.
Approximately a day later white pustules usually form. If the pustules
break they can become infected. So when your cat gets stung, it is important
to treat the stings and prevent infection. Dabbing the bite with ammonia
or diluted bleach (1:1 bleach and water) can treat fire ant stings. However,
if more than 15 minutes have passed this method doesn't work. Another
option is to treat the sting with a remedy containing benzocaine or another
ingredient that will deaden the pain and prevent infection. Consult your
vet before using benzocaine.
Treatment: Same treatment as for bee and wasps stings with the exception of the Fire ant and Harvester Ant. Do not break blisters that form from Fire Ant stings and treat for secondary infection. If you suspect harvester or fire ant bites it is best to seek medical attention
Arthropods (spiders, centipedes and scorpions)
All spiders are venomous. However most are totally harmless to people and pets as they are unable to penetrate the skin and inject venom. Most spiders capable of biting produce only a mosquito bite like reaction. However there are some very venomous and potentially deadly spiders throughout the world.
Brown Recluse and Fiddle Back (Brown Spiders)
Found in Southwestern US. The bite causes only a mild stinging sensation if at all. The chances are you will not know your cat has been bitten until other symptoms start. The bite is non-healing and causes tissue death. Several hours after the bite symptoms may appear. Kidney failure is not common but can occur.
Symptoms: A small white area appears surrounded by a margin of redness which may produce a mild itching pain, blister appears surrounded by mild swelling and redness,"bulls-eye" or "target" lesion develops around the bite, there may be fever, chills, rash, hives, nausea and pain in the joints, the target lesion will enlarge over the next few days and produce extensive and deep tissue damage.
Treatment: There is no anti-venom. The lesion will have to be soaked in antiseptic and possibly antibiotics. Surgery may be necessary to cut away the dead tissue. Basically supportive care of the wound and preventing infection, is the treatment.
Hobo (aggressive house spider)
Native to Europe and found in Idaho, Oregon, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Washington. Also found in Okanogan valley of British Columbia, the area of Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and most recently the area of Wainwright, Alberta.
Symptoms: Almost identical to the brown recluse. Large area of redness that disappears in a few hours, leaving a small bump not unlike a mosquito bite, 24 to 48 hours later blistering may occur at the bite site. Within the next 24 hours these blisters may rupture, leaving an open ulceration. Within a few days of ulceration, if left uncovered, scab begins to develop over the lesion, and by three weeks post-bite the "target or bulls-eye" appears. Following this, the "scab" is sloughed and the lesion generally heals, leaving a scar, within 45 days of the original bite. In some instances if the bite is delivered to a fatty tissue area it may not heal for up to 3 years.
Treatment: Pretty much the same as for the Brown Recluse.
Black widow (and similar species)
Found pretty much all over the world. The venom is more toxic than rattlesnake venom. It is a neurotoxin that causes little local reaction but does cause pain and spasms in the larger muscle groups of the body within 30 minutes to three hours. Severe bites can cause respiratory failure, coma and death.
Symptoms: Initial bite has very little pain, but, becomes a dull ache within 30 to 40 minutes, pain and spasms in the shoulders, back, chest, and abdominal muscles within 30 minutes to three hours, restlessness and anxiety, rigid board-like abdomen, fever, rash, vomiting, flushing of the eartips may be noticeable, facial twitches.
Treatment: Treat for shock. Apply a cold compress but do not apply ice. Seek medical attention ASAP!
Found typically, in desert like terrains, such as in, Arziona, New Mexico, Mexico and Australia. All tarantulas are venomous and their bite can cause a local and/or systemic reaction. Localized pain, redness, swelling and edema. In severe cases small blisters may form, as well as lymphangitis (infection of limbs where lymph nodes are connected—arms and legs). Systemic symptoms (not very common) include fever, malaise and nausea. There is never necrosis developing. While not fatal to humans the reaction can be much more severe in a smaller animal, such as a cat or kitten and potentially fatal.
Treatment: Immediate treatment should be to wash the area with soap and water and apply cool compresses to the site. Treat the wound much like a bee sting to reduce the pain and swelling reaction. Consult your vet to see if your cat requires a tetanus shot. Be sure to watch for anaphylaxis.
Sac spiders: Found throughout the US. Members of this family build a sack-like, silken tube usually in foliage or amongst wood piles, under bark, leaf litter and stone piles can also be found in homes or on outside walls but rare.
Symptoms: Similar bite and necrotic symptoms as the brown recluse and hobo but not as severe.
Treatment: Same as for Hobo and Brown Recluse.
Funnel web (Found in Australia)
Symptoms: Intense pain where bitten, panting, salivation and vomiting, nausea & abdominal pain, rapid rise in blood pressure/heart beat, with coma or respiratory obstruction sometimes occurring.
Treatment: Apply a broad pressure bandage the limb of the bite. http://www.rochedalss.qld.edu.au/spider/spider4.htm. Keep the cat calm and seek medical assistance ASAP. DO NOT remove bandages or splint, cut or suck the bitten area, use an arterial tourniquet or elevate the limb.
Most stings are no more painful that a honeybee. However some species such as Centruroides are very painful and pain is increased by a light tap on the sting site and can be fatal.
Symptoms of scorpion stings can be broken down into the following categories.
Minor attack, local effect: Intense pain and swelling at the sting site, light muscle spasms, numbness, and tingling. The pain usually subsides within one hour and all symptoms disappear within 24 hours with no tissue damage.
Moderate attack, whole body effect: Intense pain including armpits and groin area. Breathing difficulties, agitation, high temperature, swelling and numbness of face and throat.
Severe attack, body and central nervous system effect: Frothing at the mouth, vomiting, fever, convulsions. (see below on Centruroides)
First aid for any scorpion sting should involve washing the wound, If a limb, elevate to heart level. Apply ice packs to the sting site, Keep the cat calm, activity and panic speed up the venom spread. Consult your vet about antihistamines. As with any venom watch for signs of anaphylaxis.
If the scorpion was Centruroides, symptoms may include discoloring of the sting area, painful spreading swelling, difficulty swallowing, drooling, and loss of bowel control, jerky muscular reflexes, seizures and respiratory distress.
Treatment: Apply ice fore pain, make sure airway remains open and seek medical attention ASAP! Antitoxins are available in many areas where dangerous scorpions live.
Stings are reported very painful. Application of ice may reduce some of the discomfort; however, some report to have found that heat applications are more comforting. Discuss with your vet if your cat should require a tetanus shot. You should examine the wound for any signs of secondary infection or necrosis. As with any venom watch for signs of anaphylaxis.
Amphibians (frogs, toads, salamanders and newts)
Some frogs, toads, and salamanders have toxins secreted on their skin. The toxin is a problem if a cat tries to ingest them or somehow gets the toxin in their eyes or other mucous membranes.
Cane toad: All stages of the Cane Toad's life-cycle are poisonous. Found in Hawaii and Australia. And reported in Florida. The venom acts principally on the heart.
Symptoms: Profuse salivation, twitching, vomiting, shallow breathing, and collapse of the hind limbs. Death may occur by cardiac arrest within 15 minutes.
Treatment: Irrigation with fresh water eyes, mouth and nose if they have been exposed to toad venom. Seek medical attention. I could find no further info on the toxin or medial treatment. I am assuming supportive care is the only treatment.
Found along the Pacific Northwest Coast from Alaska to Mid California. Rough-skinned newts A large, warty-skinned newt; brown to black above, yellow to orange below. Breeding males have smooth skin. Length: 5-8". They are found in Ponds and streams and nearby moist grasslands and woodlands. These newts are among the most poisonous animals in the world. They secrete tetrodotoxin also known as TTX (the same toxin in pufferfish), one of the most potent neurotoxins known to science, from glands in their skin. A single milligram or less of TTX - an amount that can be placed on the head of a pin, is enough to kill an adult human.
Symptoms: TTX causes animals that ingest it to gasp, regurgitate, and suffer convulsions, paralysis and death. Death usually occurs within 4 to 6 hours, with a known range of about 20 minutes to 8 hours.
Treatment: There is no antidote, the only thing to be done is to treat the symptoms. This is done by removing remaining toxins in the stomach with a charcoal lavage and techniques involving life-support with an artificial respirator.
The poison dart frogs (several species) of South America are highly toxic and will kill cats if ingested or come in contact with mucous membranes. Even touching these frogs can cause humans to become very sick and die. The curare like toxin causes irreversible blockage of neuromuscular signal transmission. The Poison Dart Frog can have spots, stripes, and swirls. The color can be green, blue, red, yellow, brown, pink, dark red, white and other colors. I can find no symptoms or treatments it is apparently that fatal.
Reptiles (snakes and lizards)
The bites from venomous snakes and lizards can be very deadly for cats, because of their small size. Quick diagnosis and prompt treatment (antivenin) is necessary to save your cats life. It is recommended that Owners should not spend much time in efforts at first aid other than to keep the animal quiet and limit its activity. The small nature of the cat, cannot tolerate venom as a larger animal can. Even the smallest amount could be lethal to the cat.
The US has 4 major types of venomous snakes, the Pit Vipers (water moccasins, rattlesnakes and copperheads) and the coral snake. South America has Bothrops, Crotalus, Coral-snake, Bush-master. Asia has Mambas, Cobras, Vipers and Kraits and Colubrids. Austrailia has the most number of poisonous snakes of many species (to many and to complex to cover in this article). Africa has Boomslangs, Mambas, and Vipers to name a few.
Family Elapidae (cobras, kraits, coral snakes and mambas)
Causes mucsle paralysis and respiratory failure. Also if the bite area is not properly treated tissue damage can occur. Also some cobras spit venom into the eyes. Antivenin is available. Cobra bites are quite deadly to humans so prompt medical attention for the cat is a must and may come to late.
Mambas (green and black)
Very deadly, death may occur within 15 mins of bite. There is an antivenin available but unlikely you could reach help for your cat in time.
Local pain and swelling, paralysis, difficulty in breathing and swallowing, coma. Necrosis of local tissue. Antivenin available, very deadly to humans prompt medical attention for the cat is a must and may come to late.
Same as in North American Corals discussed below.
Treatment: Apply a broad pressure bandage the limb of the bite. http://www.rochedalss.qld.edu.au/spider/spider4.htm. Keep the cat calm and seek medical assistance ASAP. DO NOT remove bandages or splint, cut or suck the bitten area, use an arterial tourniquet, elevate the limb or apply ice.
Pit Vipers (rattlesnakes, moccasins, and copperhead)
Symptoms: Hair may hide the typical fang marks from one or two punctures wounds (but can be little more than scratch marks or abrasions). Severe pain, rapid swelling, discoloration of the skin at the bite area, severe local tissue damage that spreads from the bite, continued oozing at the wound site, thirst. Other conditions that may develop later include general body weakness, rapid pulse, vomiting, breathing difficulties, shock, bloody urine and gastrointestinal hemorrhage, even death.
Treatment: Apply a loose yet constricting band between the bite and the heart. This should not be any tighter than a watchband. Immobilize the limb with a splint. Don't apply ice or cold packs. Do not X the wound and attempt to “suck” the poison out. Never apply a tourniquet. Transport the cat as quickly and calmly as possible to veterinarian or vet hospital. IF the cat survives the first two hours after envenomation, and has had antivenin, prognosis is favorable.
Veterinarian treatment: Consists of administering IV fluids to combat hypotension. Corticosteroids to prolong the clinical course and allow more time to administer curative measures. Corticosteroids also help to control shock, minimize tissue damage and help with anaphylaxis. Antivenin (Up to 100 ml of antivenin may have to be administered to save the cat). Tetanus antivenin should also be administered.
The venom is injected by biting and chewing on the flesh. “Red touches Yellow, you’re a dead fellow”. There may be no visible symptoms of systemic effects for as long as 12-24 hours after being bitten, however, symptoms may develop as soon as 1-8 hours after envenomation.
Symptoms: A semi-circular pattern of teeth marks in the skin (but can be just a scratch), usually not painful, little or no swelling or discoloration is present, drowsiness, ataxia (the inability to coordinate muscle movements), excessive salivation, low blood pressure, drooping eyelids, and dilated pupils, abdominal pain, vomiting, paralysis of the tongue and larynx (difficulties breathing and swallowing), loss of consciousness, seizures and respiratory failure
Treatment: Wash the wound with copious amounts of water and proceed as in Pit Viper Bites.
Veterinarian Treatment: Because the venom is a neurotoxin, supportive care may differ from that of Pit Vipers. IV fluids, antivenin, Tetanus injection, antibiotics to prevent infection. Narcotics should never used as they can cause severe shock.
There are only two poisonous lizards in the world The Gila Monster ranges from extreme southwestern Utah and southern Nevada through Arizona to Sonora, Mexico. The beaded lizard, occurs in western Mexico and Guatemala. The venom of these lizards is somewhat similar in content and effect to that of some pit vipers and coral snakes.
Gila monster and Beaded lizards
The venom is delivered similar to the coral snake in that they must chew to inveonomate. They often do not let go once they bite. So the first step is often to disengage the lizard.
Place a stick between the bite and the back of the lizard's mouth and push against the rear of the jaw; apply flame under the jaw; or if it safe for the cat, immerse the lizard in water. As a last resort only, grasp the lizard by the tail and remove with a single jerk.
Symptoms: Same as pit vipers and may also include swollen lymph nodes.
Treatment: If necessary remove lizard as ascribed above. Flush wound with lots of fresh water, and allow to bleed. If bleeding is profuse, apply a compress to wound. Treat as you would Pit Viper Bites. However there is no specific antivenin available.
Veterinarian Treatment: Remove the teeth, which often break off in the wound and cause infection, tetanus shot and supportive care.
Where to find Antivenin
Your local Poison Control Center will have information as to where to locate a medical facility with antivenin near you, the amount to give and treatment.
In areas where venomous species live, typically hospitals carry antivenin, you are not likely to find antivenin in a small, private practice unless the area is notourious for bites.
IF you live in an area that has venomous species, it is wise to check into antivenin availability before an incidence occurs, so you know where to go and how quick you can get there.
The Cat Owners Home Veterinarian Handbook by Carslson D.V.M. and Gifford M.D.
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