Saturday, November 26, 2011

Cats and Spider Bites: The Black Widow Spider Bite

Anyone who knows me knows that my cat Magick gets himself into a lot of trouble. This past summer was no exception. He stuck his head into the BBQ and has no whiskers (and is missing a fair bit of hair). He fell off the roof and fractured a couple ribs (no, he hasn't figured out how to land on all fours). And he got himself bit by a black widow spider.

Black widows are black spiders with a red hourglass on the belly ranging from 1/2 inch to 1 inch long. They tend to like the warmer areas of North America, but they can be found as far north as Canada (unfortunately, at least for my poor Magick). They like to make their homes in dark crevice-like holes such as woodpiles, which is where Magick found one. They are not aggressive, but they will bite when threatened, or when an unsuspecting cat steps into a nest. As a result, a cat is more likely to be bitted on the leg than anywhere else. And the black widow spider has a poisonous bite.

So, what do you do if your cat has been bitten by a black widow spider? To start with, don't think you can treat it yourself. Keep the cat quiet and calm and head to your veterinarian immediately. Do not place a tourniquet above the bite. Doing this will not prevent the vemon from spreading and you may cut off necessary circulation to the affected area.

There is currently no blood test to detect the venom of the black widow spider, so your vet will make an assessment based on symptoms. Some of the signs to look for will include:
  • Extreme pain in the area around the bite
  • Nausea or vomitting
  • Swelling in the affected area
  • Muscule tremors
  • Rigid muscles
  • Paralysis
  • Spasms
  • Difficulty breathing
The bite of a black widow can kill, usually by paralysing the muscles that control your cat's ability to breathe. Luckily, your vet can administer medication that can relax the muscles and allow the cat to breathe, just as my own vet did for Magick. Your vet may also want to give your cat IV fluids and keep him or her for observation. While there is an antidote available for humans, it is very expensive, so expensive that most people cannot afford to have their vet obtain a dose suitable for a cat.

I was lucky. Magick survived his bite, though a full recovery took quite some time. Many cats do not fare so well, even with treatment. Their small size makes them more likely to die from a black widow bite than a large dog.

Your best bet is to prevent a bite in the first place. Examine your yard for any evidence of black widow spiders. If you find any, hire an exterminator to eliminate them. You can take care of the problem yourself, but be careful. Remember that black widow vemon is toxic to humans as well.

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