Adventurecat First Aid Guide: How to Treat a Cat Snake Bite

How do I know if my cat was bitten by a snake?

If you’re adventuring alongside your cat and they’re bitten by a snake, you’ll know it.

But if your cat was alone when they were bitten by a snake, it might be less obvious. Cats’ bodies react differently to snake bites than do dogs and humans and may not show symptoms of snake bite poisoning for 12-24 hours. If your cat received a “dry bite” or bite from a non-venomous snake, their reaction will involve temporary pain and swelling, possible infection at the site of the bite, but no symptoms of poisoning.

In all cases, there will likely be visible puncture wounds on your cat’s body, although these marks may be mistaken for a spider bite or other type of wound. Cat snake bites are most common around the arms and face. These puncture wounds will probably be accompanied by swelling and bleeding at the site of the bite.

Venomous snakes inject hemotoxins, neurotoxins, and cytotoxins into your cat’s body, so it can have a devastating effect on the entire physical system, causing severe symptoms such as:

  • Trembling
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea  
  • Muscle weakness
  • An unbalanced, uncoordinated walk
  • Heavy and rapid breathing
  • Droopy eyelids and dilated pupils
  • Blood in the urine
  • Paralysis  
  • Coma

Will my cat survive a snake bite?

If your cat receives appropriate care promptly after the bite, it’s likely that they will survive. According to VetWest Animal Hospitals in Australia, 80% of pets survive a snake bite if they receive proper care. If your cat doesn’t receive treatment, however, a snake bite is often deadly.

The prognosis depends on a wide variety of variables, including the distance of the bite to the heart, the amount of venom the snake injected, whether or not the snake was venomous at all, how quickly your cat received treatment, what type of treatment your cat received, and the size of your cat.

Here’s what to do if your cat is bitten by a snake.

While preparing to bring your cat off the trail and to a veterinary hospital, evaluate the situation.

Note the location of the bite.

Because snake bites are defensive, bites are usually located around cats’ heads and forelimbs. Bites closer to the chest are more dangerous than those on the paw or ear. Remember that bites near the heart mean less time for the venom to travel to this vital organ.

Identify the snake as best you can.

The Merck Veterinary Manual says that ideally, you should bring the dead snake (head intact) with you to the vet. This will help your veterinarian to identify the type of snake and administer the correct antivenin treatment.

This won’t be feasible in most situations. The snake was afraid of your cat in the first place, so it’s probably slithered away by now, and secondly, trying to kill a snake could make the situation worse. The basic idea is to know what type of snake bit your cat.

If the snake is still in the area, take a photo. If it’s already disappeared, don’t go chasing after it. Instead, make mental notes about its appearance. If you think you’ll forget details, pull out your phone or notebook and record anything you observed – color, shape, and size. 

DON’T try to suck out the venom, apply a tourniquet, or apply ice.

Apply gentle pressure to slow down the bleeding and circulation of venom.

If possible, transfer your cat to their backpack carrier, positioning it in such a way that your cat can lay down and rest. If you don’t have a backpack carrier, you will have to carry your cat out. Agitation and activity will only make the situation worse by helping the venom to move through your cat’s body.

Head to the nearest veterinarian.

Once you’ve reached your vehicle, keep your cat comfortable, allowing them to lie down and relax as much as possible.

If you’re away from home and don’t have access to your cat’s preferred veterinarian, use your smartphone to find veterinarians near your current location.

Once you’re at the veterinarian, you’ll face a number of possible treatment routes.

Depending on your cat’s unique snakebite situation, the veterinarian will recommend a treatment method. After observation and testing, they’ll determine whether or not your cat has been envenomated.

Treatment will involve supportive care to keep your cat hydrated and stable, potential antivenom or antivenin treatment, and antibiotics to prevent infection.

How long does it take for a cat to recover from a snake bite?

Recovery will take at least one to two days. After your cat has been released from the veterinary hospital, it’s important to monitor them closely and control their activity levels. Don’t take your cat out for any adventures until they’re completely healed.

Preventing Cat Snake Bites

Snakebites are terrifying and life-threatening, so it’s always better to take the appropriate steps to prevent them. Here’s how to ensure that your adventurecat won’t have to deal with a snake bite in the future.

Especially if you live in an area with a lot of snakes, don’t let your cat outside unsupervised.

Most cat snake bites are defensive, not aggressive.

Cats like to hunt snakes. They don’t discriminate between garter snakes and copperheads – the harmless and the venomous look equally worth stalking and attacking. When a fast, four-legged predator tries to kill a snake, the vulnerable snake can either try to slither away, play dead, or fight back.

To keep your cat from instigating a defensive snake bite, keep them inside unless supervised and on a leash.

When you’re on an adventure, stay aware of your surroundings and keep your cat on a leash.

Again, since snake bites occur as self-defense, keeping your cat on a leash will prevent most bites.

If your cat spots a snake crossing the trail and wants to chase it, tighten up on the leash and keep your cat under control. If you fear that your cat will slip out of the harness after the snake, crouch down next to your cat, keeping them from backing out of the harness. Some cats have very strong predatory instincts and will fight back when you attempt to intervene in the hunt. In this case, you’ll likely need to carry your cat away from the area. Using a backpack carrier makes this easy.

If snakes live in the area in which you’re adventuring, stay out of thick, long grass.

Any time that you go on an adventure with your cat, it’s important to know which animal species you are likely to encounter. Do your research. If you know you’re venturing into an area where there are lots of venomous snakes, use extra caution.

In particular, avoid patches of long, thick grass or any area where the ground is obscured. While you can’t see what’s taking place below the grass, your cat will be acutely aware of what’s happening down there – and potentially messing around with a snake.