Poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes are widely distributed throughout the
United States. In general, bites of nonpoisonous snakes do not cause
swelling or pain. They show teeth marks in the shape of a horseshoe (no
Ninety percent of snake bites in cats involve the head and legs. Body bites
from poisonous snakes usually are lethal.
In the United States there are four poisonous varieties: cottonmouth moccasin,
rattlesnakes, copperheads and coral snakes. The diagnosis of poison snake bite
is made by the appearance of the bite, the behavior of the animal and identification
of the species of snake. (Kill it first if possible.)
PIT VIPERS (RATTLESNAKES, MOCCASINS, COPPERHEADS)
Identify these species by their large arrow-shaped heads, pits
below and between the eyes, elliptical pupils, rough scales and the presence
of fangs in the upper jaws.
The bite: There are two puncture wounds in the skin (fang marks). Signs
of local reaction appear quickly and include sudden severe swelling, excruciating
pain, redness and hemorrhages in the skin.
Behavior of the animal: Signs and symptoms depend
on the size and species of the snake, location of the bite and amount of toxin
absorbed. The first signs are extreme restlessness, panting, drooling and weakness.
These are followed by diarrhea, collapse, sometimes seizures, shock and death
in severe cases.
Identify this snake by its rather small size, small head with
black nose and vivid-colored bands of red, yellow, white and black--the
red and yellow bands are always next to each other. Fangs are present in
the upper jaw.
The bite: There is less severe redness and swelling at the site
of the bite, but the pain is excruciating. Look for the fang marks.
Behavior of the animal: Coral snake venom primarily
is neurotoxic (destructive to nerve tissue). Signs include vomiting, diarrhea,
urinary incontinence, paralysis, convulsions and coma.
Except for the coral snake, all poisonous species in North America are
pit vipers. Note the elliptical pupil, pit below the eye, large fangs and characteristic
TREATMENT OF SNAKE BITES
First identify the snake and look at the bite. If the snake
is nonpoisonous, cleanse and dress the wound as described later in this
chapter (see Wounds). If it appears that the cat has been bitten
by a poisonous snake and if you are within 30 minutes of a veterinary hospital,
transport at once (see Handling and Restraint).
If unable to get help within 30 minutes, follow these steps:
1. KEEP THE CAT QUIET
Venom spreads rapidly if the cat is active. Excitement, exercise, struggling--all
these increase the rate of absorption.
2. If the bite is on the leg, apply a constricting bandage (handkerchief or
strip of cloth) between the bite and the cat's heart. You should be able to
get a finger beneath the bandage; loosen the bandage for five minutes every
Figure 1.14 Poisonous snake bite, showing an extensive face wound after
loss of devitalized tissue.
3. Do not wash the wound because this will increase venom absorption.
4. Do not apply ice because this does not slow spread and can damage
5. Do not make cuts over the wound or attempt to suck out venom. This
usually is not successful, and you could absorb venom.
Proceed to the veterinary hospital. Further treatment involves intravenous
fluids, antivenoms, antihistamines and antibiotics.
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