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Cat Owner's Home Veterinary Handbook

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 fang marks).

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.)


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 bite.
--Rose Floyd


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:


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 hour.

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 tissue.

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.


© Copyright 1998, Macmillan Publishing. All rights reserved.

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