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Envenomation—Guidelines for Pet Owners

Cat with Green Eyes

Envenomation occurs when your pet is poisoned by a venomous snake, spider, or other creature, typically through a bite or sting. Venomous species in Texas include four types of snakes, two types of spiders, and scorpions. Our team at MissionVet is here to help with any emergency that arises, but knowing about these dangerous species can help you minimize the risk to your pet, and know how to respond if they are bitten.

Venomous Snakes Can Harm Your Pet

Pets are curious creatures and enjoy sticking their head in holes and under logs to investigate their environment. This can result in a snake bite to their nose or face, which could be deadly. Four types of venomous snakes are found in Texas.

  • Coral Snakes— The Texas coral snake can be recognized by the red, yellow, and black bands that encircle their body. The coral snake is sometimes mistaken for the non-venomous king snake, which has similar coloring. The difference is that the king snake’s red and black bands touch, while the coral snake’s yellow and red bands touch. Coral snakes have a small head, black snout, and round pupils. They are reclusive, nocturnal, and non-aggressive by nature, and rarely bite pets. If your pet is bitten, signs can include paralysis, drooling, respiratory distress, diarrhea, and convulsions. They will need to be hospitalized for at least 48 hours, and a specific antivenin is not available. 

  • Copperhead Snakes— Copperheads are the most common venomous snakes in the United States. They are classified as pit vipers and have a triangular head, vertical, slit-like pupils, and facial pits between their eyes and nostrils. Copperheads have an hourglass pattern down their short, thick bodies. They are not overly aggressive, but they will strike if provoked. Copperhead venom is hemotoxic, which can cause blood clotting and localized tissue damage. Signs include swelling and redness at the bite site, excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth, vomiting, diarrhea, and collapse. Antivenom is rarely indicated with copperhead bites, and most cases do well with pain medications, fluid therapy, and monitoring. 

  • Rattlesnakes— Rattlesnakes in Texas include the Mottled rock rattlesnake, Banded rock rattlesnake, Blacktail rattlesnake, Mojave rattlesnake, Prairie rattlesnake, Timber rattlesnake, and Western Diamondback. They are classified as pit vipers and have a triangular head, vertical pupils, and facial pits between their eyes and nostrils. They also have a distinctive rattle at the tip of their tail. Depending on the species, the venom is either hemotoxic or neurotoxic. Signs include pain and swelling at the bite site, paralysis, and respiratory distress. Antivenom is indicated in most rattlesnake bites, along with fluid therapy and pain medication.

  • Cottonmouths— Cottonmouths are also classified as pit vipers. They have a triangular head, vertical pupils, and facial pits between their eyes and nostrils. They are aggressive by nature, and their venom is hemotoxic. Signs include pain and swelling at the bite site, weakness, vomiting, and tremors. Antivenom is indicated for most cottonmouth bites, along with fluid therapy and pain medication.

To avoid snake bites, do not let your pet outside unsupervised, and keep them leashed when out for walks. Don’t allow them to investigate in holes or under rocks or wood piles, and stay away from any snakes you see. The best preventive is snake avoidance training.

Venomous Spiders Can Harm Your Pet

Pets can be bitten when they disturb the spider’s space. Venomous spiders in Texas include:

  • Black Widow Spiders— The female black widow spider, who is black with a red or red-orange hourglass-shaped mark on the underside of her abdomen, is more likely to bite than the male. Her venom is a potent neurotoxin, causing acetylcholine and norepinephrine release. Signs include paralysis, muscle tremors, loud vocalization likely from pain, respiratory distress, excessive salivation, lack of coordination, vomiting, and diarrhea. An antivenin is available, and supportive care, including fluid therapy, oxygen therapy, and muscle relaxants, is also important.

  • Brown Recluse Spiders— The brown recluse is varying shades of brown and has a violin-shaped marking on its back. Cats are more likely to be bitten because they have a tendency to investigate small, dark spaces. The brown recluse’s venom is necrotizing, causing an ulcerated, necrotic wound at the bite site. Other possible signs include fever, weakness, and vomiting. Unless your pet’s case is severe, the bite can be treated with routine wound care.

To help prevent your pet from being bitten by a spider, don’t allow them to explore basements and crawl spaces, dust and vacuum your home frequently, and remove clutter.

Venomous Scorpions Can Harm Your Pet

All scorpions are venomous, and their venom can cause significant pain and numbness. Signs include pain and/or numbness or tingling sensation in the area that was stung, and mild coughing. In rare cases, an allergic reaction can develop and could become life-threatening. While most scorpion stings are minor and self-limiting, they can become a veterinary emergency if an allergic reaction develops. Signs of an allergic reaction include collapse, redness, swelling of the site, vomiting, diarrhea, or trouble breathing. Treatment includes pain medication and antihistamines if there is an allergic reaction. To avoid scorpion stings, don’t allow your pet to go outside unattended, and check your house for the critters, especially during the rainy season. 

Texas wildlife poses many dangers to your pet, but by taking a few precautions, you can safeguard your furry pal. If your pet encounters a venomous animal, contact our MissionVet team so we can help alleviate their distress.