Snake Bite in Cats
This article is written by Pet Circle veterinarian, Dr Michelle Wong, BVSc
Australia is home to many of the world's most venomous snakes. Out of the top 25 poisonous snakes, 21 are found in our country. It has been estimated that around 6,200 cats and dogs are bitten each year, most commonly from the Brown snake (shown above), followed by the Tiger Snake. The good news is that chances of survival are high with prompt treatment, up to 92% survival rate for cats bitten by brown snakes. The quicker the snake bite is noticed and treated, the higher the chances. Without treatment, there is a risk that your pet may die.
Cats are more commonly bitten by snakes on their paws as they tend to swat. Dogs, on the other hand, investigate with their nose and mouth. It is not always possible to see the site of the snake bite, the puncture marks may be faint without any bruising, redness or swelling. There may not be a pain response either.
Snake bite symptoms in cats can vary greatly and tend to be inconsistent and transient. Felines can take up to 15 hours before showing signs! In dogs, the onset of signs is much quicker, generally within 1-6 hours. Early signs in cats include weakness, incoordination, off-balance and unsteadiness on the feet which appears almost like a drunk-like gait. This can progress to extreme lethargy and floppiness, unable to walk or even lift their head.
The reaction your pet will have to a snake may be determined by the type of snake, the amount of venom injected and where the snake has bitten. At the start of summer, when snakes become much more active, their glands are also fuller which leads to a more serious bite.
Signs of a snake bite:
- Bleeding from bite wound
- Weakness and lethargy ("floppy")
- Flat and depressed
- Dilated pupils
- Respiratory distress
- Bloody urine
If you notice any of these signs, do not hesitate to contact your nearest veterinarian for emergency help. In many cases, a Snake Detection Kit will be used to confirm the snake bite and determine what type of snake it was. Treatments may vary depending on the type of snake.
What to do when your cat has been bitten
Things you should do:
- Keep your pet calm and quiet
- Restrict movement (carry and place your cat into a carrier)
- Apply gentle pressure around the bite wound if possible, do not stress your cat
- If your pet is paralysed, place their head down to keep the airway clear
- Call your vet immediately and let them know you are coming
Calling your local vet clinic can help them prepare for your arrival as well as making sure that they have anti-venom in stock. In the case they do not have anti-venom, they can help direct you to another clinic which will be able to treat your pet. Taking a clear photo or bringing the snake if it is already dead, may assist veterinary staff in identifying the snake.
For many cats, getting bundled into a carrier for a trip to the vet can be a sudden and stressful event. By teaching your cat in advance to be comfortable with their cat carrier and using anxiety relief aids like Feliway can make a big difference on those trips out of the house. Read our top tips on how to make travelling with your cat less stressful.
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Things you should NOT do:
- Attempt to capture or kill the snake
- Apply a tourniquet around the bite wound (this can cut off circulation)
- Do not stress or excite your pet
- Do not suck the venom out of the wound, you could put yourself in danger of toxicity
Snakes are protected in Australia and may not be captured or killed without a license. Attempting to kill the snake can also put yourself in danger of getting bitten.
Treatment and Recovery
Treatment for snake bite consists of administering the correct antivenom to bind and neutralise the toxins circulating in the system. Antivenom is most effective when given early. Patients with severe envenomation may require multiple vials of antivenom. These patients often have respiratory paralysis and require oxygen support via a mechanical ventilator, a life support machine to help breathe for them. More antivenom that can be given can speed up their recovery and the sooner they can come off the ventilator.
Other treatments include intravenous fluid therapy, adrenaline, and blood transfusions when required as snake bites can affect the ability for blood to clot which leads to bleeding, potentially into the chest or out through the nose.
Pets who receive prompt veterinary attention, and if the bite is not severe, may recover after 24-48 hours of hospitalisation and treatment. In cases with more severe paralysis or complications such as kidney damage, there may be a substantially longer hospitalisation and recovery period. Strict rest is also recommended at discharge time, for a further 2 weeks.
Can a cat survive a snake bite without treatment?
There have been cases where cats have recovered without anti-venom. However, as the recovery time is longer, it has also been noted that the cost of supportive treatments and lengthy hospitalisation could amount to a similar cost if antivenom had been administered.
What you can do if you find a snake at home
Actions you can take:
- Bring your pets to safety inside the house or secure them away from the area where the snake is
- Do not attempt to catch or kill the snake yourself, call a professional snake handler instead
If you have found a snake in your backyard, keep a safe distance away and monitor. Usually snakes are just passing by and will move off in a few hours. You can call a local snake catcher for help if needed, and if you have found it inside your house. They may assist you in identifying the snake and can help remove the snake safely from your house if it is posing a threat or it is a venomous snake. Carpet pythons are commonly spotted, these snakes are harmless and will go on about their business without the need for expert removal.
Australia's largest wildlife rescue group, WIRES, could also help remove snakes from your house. Contact the WIRES Rescue Line on 1300 094 737.
Precautions you can take
Steps you could take to protect your cat from snakes include keeping your cat indoors, or setting up a secure snake-proof outdoor enclosure. When choosing cat netting for an enclosure, look out for the description regarding snake protection. Snake proof or deterrant netting have smaller mesh size to prevent snakes from getting in. You may also consider placing snake repellers around your garden. These work by emitting vibrations which warn snakes from approaching.