Pit Viper Snake Bites in Cats
Bites from the snakes known as pit vipers include the rattlesnakes, cottonmouths, and copperheads, and contain venom that can be fatal to your pet. These snakes bite to protect themselves, and only inject venom when they feel particularly threatened or frightened. Therefore, 25% of bites from venomous snakes do not actually contain any venom.
Snake bites often happen on the limbs, head, and neck of the cat. The closer the bite to the trunk of the cat’s body and heart, the more likely it will be fatal.
These pit viper snakes can be differentiated from other snakes by their large size (4-8 feet in length), triangular heads, elliptical shaped eyes, and a deep pit between the eyes and nostrils (hence their name).
Bites from non-venomous snakes will not show two bleeding puncture wounds indicative of fangs. Non-venomous snakes will leave a horseshoe shaped bite made up of small punctures of similar size. These snakes will also have circular eyes instead of elliptical ones.
Signs & Symptoms of Pit Viper Snake Bites in Cats
The bite site will have two bleeding puncture wounds in the skin, and severe inflammation, discoloration, and hemorrhaging may appear immediately. The bite site will be extremely painful.
Your cat may not show signs of envenomation immediately after a snake bite. The toxicity of the venom and amount injected can affect the severity and time of onset of your cat’s signs. The size of the snake does not necessarily reflect the amount of venom they will inject into your cat.
- Panting/labored breathing
- Excessive drooling
- Bizarre gait
- Shallow breathing
Causes of Pi Viper Snake Bites in Cats
The venom found in these snakes is toxic to the blood, kills tissue, and contains an anticoagulant that prevents your cat’s blood from clotting. A few species of pit viper contain a neurotoxin in their venom.
Treatment for Pit Viper Snake Bites in Cats
The first hours after the bite are crucial to determining your cat’s condition and prognosis. Your veterinarian will likely:
- Administer IV fluids
- Provide respiratory support by giving oxygen
- Provide circulatory support
- Give antihistamines
- Give a species-specific antivenin as soon as possible, if available
- Hospitalize and observe your cat for at least 24 hours
Please note that this is an emergency situation and you should call your vet ASAP! Do not waste time on first aid if you believe your cat has been bitten by a snake. Wasting time is the worst mistake you can make.
CALL YOUR VET!
Before you leave or on your way, find out if they have any antivenin in stock. If you get to your veterinarian and they do not have any, they may have to send you to another vet or doctor, elongating the time your cat goes without treatment. Many veterinarians do not keep these drugs in stock due to their high cost and short shelf life.
KEEP YOUR PET QUIET AND IMMOBILE!
Lay your cat down and carry him if possible - this may prevent the spread of venom.
DO NOT APPLY ICE TO THE BITE SITE!
This will restrict circulation, can damage tissue, and will likely cause more problems.
DO NOT APPLY A TOURNIQUET ABOVE THE BITE SITE!
This will restrict circulation and will likely cause more problems.
DO NOT ATTEMPT TO SUCK OR DRAIN THE VENOM FROM THE BITE SITE!
There is no proof that this is ever successful.
Identify the snake if possible: remember habitat, coloration, size, presence of fangs, and the shapes of the eyes and head if you can. This will help the veterinarian determine what type of snake it was that bit your cat. DO NOT EVER ATTEMPT TO HANDLE A LIVE SNAKE! Remember that a snake’s fangs are still venomous up to two hours after it dies.
Even if you determine that the snake is non-venomous, it is still a good idea to take your cat to the vet. Your veterinarian will probably prescribe an antibiotic to prevent infection of the bite site, and maybe a pain medication to reduce the discomfort.
There is no real prevention for a rattlesnake bite, besides knowing your snakes and keeping your cat away from them.
There is also a vaccine for cats that will introduce your cat to the protein found in rattlesnake venom. This way, your cat can develop antibodies to the venom if they’re exposed. This does not mean you shouldn’t take your cat to the veterinarian if you suspect they have been bitten by a rattlesnake. This vaccine is designed to buy you time, not to eliminate the need to visit the vet. This vaccine is usually administered as a series with one or two boosters.