What is Lizard Bite Poisoning?
Removing the lizard from their victim is oftentimes difficult due to both the large number of teeth they possess and their vice-like bite. Many cats end up going to the veterinarian with the lizard still attached. Many times after the lizard is removed, its brittle teeth will remain lodged in or under the skin.
The Gila monster and the Mexican beaded lizard are the only two lizards that have an overt venom delivery system. Venom sacs are located at the back of each side of their lower jaws. When they bite, venom is released through a chewing motion which flows through grooves in their teeth and is delivered into the victim. If the lizard salivates, the delivery of the venom is intensified.
The venom is similar in strength to some rattlesnake venoms. However, unlike snakes, their venom does not have an anticoagulating property, which means that physical response to the bite is usually kept localized and can easily be treated with first aid. Though neurological effects are possible in extreme cases, lizard venom is seldom life-threatening.
Few lizards are considered to be poisonous. Two of them are located in the desert areas of southwestern United States and northern Mexico. They are the Gila monster (Heloderma suspectum) and the Mexican beaded lizard (Heloderma horridum). Both species are largely considered to be non-threatening because they spend most of their time underground and only come out to feed or to mate. However, when they feel threatened, such as from a curious cat or dog, they will hiss, back away, and do all they can to get away before they decide to bite. Their bites, both instantaneous and extremely forceful, are usually to the lips, cheeks or forelegs. Once latched on, they will not let go without force. Their bite often causes serious pain and injury to the skin, blood vessels, and muscles.
Symptoms of Lizard Bite Poisoning in Cats
The most common symptoms of lizard bite poisoning are intense burning pain and excessive bleeding from the wound. Other symptoms include:
- Teeth lodged in the wound
- Low or dropping of blood pressure
- Irregular heart rate
- Weakness and fatigue
- Nausea and vomiting
- Excessive urination and defecation
- Excessive salivation
- Labored breathing
Causes of Lizard Bite Poisoning in Cats
There is only one cause of lizard bite poisoning in cats and that is an overly curious cat. Many cats, in the course of investigating and sniffing, will ignore the lizard’s warnings to back away and will quickly discover how strong the lizard’s bite is. Once the lizard has obtained a firm hold, the venom is quickly released.
Diagnosis of Lizard Bite Poisoning in Cats
Diagnosis is primarily based on clinical evidence. There is no affirmative test for lizard bite poisoning, although your veterinarian may decide to conduct a few common tests if your cat is exhibiting dramatic symptoms such as an irregular heartbeat, labored breathing, or anything that may indicate a strong allergic reaction.
Tests may also be conducted to rule out any underlying conditions. These tests may include a urinalysis, blood analysis, radiographs (x-rays), ultrasound, and an electrocardiogram (EKG). Your veterinarian will also monitor your cat’s blood pressure, especially if your cat has been treated for heart issues in the past.
A full cardiac panel may be performed if your cat has evidence of instability in the blood, chest pain, or an abnormal ultrasound result. Chest x-rays may be taken if your cat is experiencing labored breathing or there is evidence of chronic diseases or conditions present. X-rays may also be taken to check for any remaining teeth left under the surface of the wound.
Treatment of Lizard Bite Poisoning in Cats
The first course of action to take when your cat is attacked by either a Gila monster or a Mexican beaded lizard is to remove the lizard from the cat. There are several ways to do this, but you should take note that the lizard will be intensely enraged so extreme caution must be taken to ensure the lizard does not continue biting your cat or even try to bite you.
- Pry it Off: Insert a hard stick, metal rod, or another kind of prying instrument into the lizard’s mouth and direct it toward the back of the throat to force the lizard to let go.
- Vinegar or Alcohol: Pour vinegar or alcohol into the lizard’s mouth or onto its nose. It is suggested that you use drinking alcohol and not rubbing alcohol, because rubbing alcohol is considered harmful to the lizard. Both the Gila monster and the Mexican beaded lizard are federally protected species, so harming either could violate the law.
- Fire and Ice: As a last resort, try putting a flame under the lizard’s chin to convince it to let go, or you can submerge it in a bucket of very cold water.
If you are unable to pry the lizard loose, take your cat to the veterinarian or emergency clinic immediately with the lizard still attached. Keep your cat as calm as possible so that the lizard does not continue to bite and release venom.
There is no antivenin for lizard bite poisoning, so basic first aid is administered until you can take your cat to your veterinarian. Wash the wound and irrigate it well with running water. Then apply pressure to the wound to control bleeding. Do not use any tourniquets or compressive bandaging.
Because the lizard’s teeth are brittle and not directly attached to its jaw, they will break off and remain embedded in your cat’s skin (the lizard will grow them back). Gently use tweezers or a needle to remove any teeth that you see. Once you are at the veterinarian’s office, x-rays will reveal the location of any hidden teeth, including those under the surface of the wound.
Do not apply ice, since it may cause additional damage to the blood vessels. If the bite occurred on a leg, place a splint on the leg to prevent unnecessary movement.
If your cat is showing signs of shock, try to keep your cat on its back until you reach the veterinarian’s office.
At the Veterinarian’s Office
Since there is no antivenin, treatment will be based on clinical evidence and your cat’s symptoms.
After you arrive, your doctor will continue flushing the wound with lidocaine or sterilized saline while your cat’s blood pressure is monitored for hypotension. Intravenous fluids may be administered to help control any arrhythmia as well as respiratory support if breathing is labored. X-rays may be taken to check for teeth hidden under the skin. Additional testing for underlying conditions may be conducted if your cat is experiencing an extreme reaction to the venom.
Once stabilized, medication to control pain and broad-spectrum antibiotics will be given because of harmful bacteria in the lizard’s mouth.
Recovery of Lizard Bite Poisoning in Cats
Continue to monitor the wound for signs of change. If there are any, call your veterinarian right away.
Your veterinarian may continue to prescribe pain medication if it is necessary. Antibiotic treatment is commonly discontinued after three days unless symptoms persist. Additional medication will depend on any other symptoms your cat is exhibiting or evidence of an underlying condition.
Poisoning from Gila monsters or Mexican beaded lizards is not usually life-threatening. Victims typically respond well to treatment and the prognosis is favorable.
By far the best treatment is prevention. If you live in an area where these lizards exist, keep your cat indoors in order to avoid an encounter.