What is Coral Snake Bite Poisoning?
Coral snake bite poisoning will require medical treatment and can be fatal if not treated or not treated quickly enough. The venom is a powerful toxin that can cause complete paralysis and shut down the respiratory system. If you believe your cat has been bitten by a coral snake, seek veterinary assistance immediately.
The coral snake is a type of elapid snake commonly found in the Southern half of the United States. Related species are found all over the world. This species of snake is venomous and is able to inject poison into its victims with a single bite. Coral snakes are recognizable by their striping pattern, which begins with a nearly all black head and continues with bands of red, yellow, and black. Many snakes share this coloring, but the venomous coral snake can be identified because its yellow bands touch both the red and black bands. They are typically reclusive and not known for being aggressive, but bites can occur if the cat corners or gets too close to the snake.
Symptoms of Coral Snake Bite Poisoning in Cats
The symptoms of coral snake bite poisoning may not appear immediately. It is not unusual for symptoms to start up to 18 hours after the bite occurred. The most obvious sign of a problem before symptom onset is the bite mark itself. A coral snake bite appears as two puncture wounds with some blood loss at the wound site. Once symptoms begin to show, they can progress rapidly. The most serious symptom is paralysis, including respiratory paralysis, which can be fatal.
- Puncture wounds
- Breathing trouble
- Altered voice or inability to meow
- Difficulty swallowing
- Altered mental state or abnormal behavior
- Loss of bowel control
- Seizures or muscle spasms
- Respiratory failure
Causes of Coral Snake Bite Poisoning in Cats
Coral snake bite poisoning is caused by snake envenomation. When a coral snake bites a cat, its fangs penetrate the skin and inject venom. Coral snakes are not considered aggressive, but they will bite when threatened. Cats are often bitten on the face or front limbs after getting too close to the snake. The larger the coral snake, the more venom it can inject and the more severe the poisoning and related symptoms will be. The closer the bite is located to the cat’s heart, the more likely it is to produce severe or fatal effects. The venom of the coral snakes is a neurotoxin, which means it acts on the nervous system by destroying nerve tissue. This prevents the transmission of signals to and from the brain, causing paralysis and the shutdown of bodily systems.
Diagnosis of Coral Snake Bite Poisoning in Cats
Diagnosing coral snake bite poisoning is a simple task if the bite was witnessed or the snake was seen. The veterinarian will require a description of the snake. You can also bring the dead snake with you if available so that veterinary staff can make a confirmation. Do not put yourself at risk attempting to catch or kill the snake. Coral snakes are toxic to humans as well as pets. If the snake was not seen, your veterinarian will make a diagnosis based on the clinical signs and their knowledge of the species of snakes commonly found in your area. Although they may not be able to confirm a coral snake is to blame for your pet’s condition, recognizing the clinical signs of an elapid snakebite, including paralysis, shallow breathing, and decreased reflexes, will let them proceed with appropriate treatments.
Treatment of Coral Snake Bite Poisoning in Cats
Saving a cat with coral snake bite poisoning requires multiple treatment methods. The poisoning itself will be treated as will the associated symptoms. Treatment requires medical care and should begin as soon as possible. Most cats with this type of poisoning will require a few days of hospitalization to recover. It is not possible to treat coral snake poisoning at home. If you believe your pet has been bitten, keep them calm and immobile and get them to a veterinarian as soon as possible. Do not attempt to suck or drain venom from the wound, apply ice, or apply a tourniquet. These steps can actually cause more damage. Your veterinarian will use some or all of the following treatments:
- Antivenin: Although coral snake specific antivenin is no longer manufactured in the U.S., a general antivenin will be administered to reduce the effects of the coral snake’s neurotoxin. Depending on how the cat responds, additional doses of antivenin may be given until the cat begins to respond to the treatment.
- Oxygen Therapy: Respiratory paralysis is the most dangerous effect of coral snake bite poisoning and can be fatal. Your pet will be administered oxygen through tubes, masking, or an oxygen cage to support their breathing and maintain their blood oxygen level. If respiratory paralysis occurs and the cat is no longer able to breathe on their own, a ventilator will be required. Your pet may be transported to a veterinary hospital if your veterinarian does not have a ventilator onsite.
- Intravenous (IV) Fluids: Shock, paralysis, and coma will make it impossible for your pet to eat or drink. IV fluids will be necessary to prevent dehydration and support your pet’s bodily functions.
- Antihistamines: Your veterinarian may administer antihistamines to help control your cat’s reaction to the snake venom. Antihistamines are commonly used for the treatment of allergies and allergic reactions and carry a very low risk of side effects.
- Anticonvulsive medications: This category of drugs is used to treat the seizures and muscle spasms that are common with coral snake bite poisoning. They reduce muscle movement and may make your cat seem weak or drowsy. This treatment is necessary to reduce the stress and potential damage that convulsions can have on your cat’s body.
- Antibiotics: This category of drug is used to kill bacteria. Your pet may be given antibiotics intravenously or topically at the wound site. The treatment is used to prevent infection associated with the bite.
Recovery of Coral Snake Bite Poisoning in Cats
Numerous factors can affect your cat’s chances of recovery from coral snake bite poisoning. To give your pet the best chance of making a full recovery, seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible. The earlier your cat is given an appropriate antivenin, the greater the chance of recovery. Even with early treatment, your cat may be hospitalized for several days. Until they are able to breathe, eat and drink, and move about on their own, they will require medical care. Once your pet has been released to go home, you should continue to monitor their wound site and their behavior. Follow all your veterinarian’s instructions carefully, including medications and follow-up visits. If you observe signs of infection, contact your veterinarian immediately. Most cats that are successfully treated will fully recover within a week or two, with weakness being the symptom that lasts the longest.