One of the major safety hazards for cats who roam outdoors during the summer months is deadly ticks and spiders. We all know how inquisitive cats are, always on the lookout for interesting things to hunt and stalk especially in dark corners around the house and outside – this is what makes them particularly at risk from the toxic bites of these dangerous small insects.
Australia is home to many poisonous spiders, with the Red Back spider (known as the Black Widow spider in the United States and the Katipo in New Zealand) being the most dangerous for cats. Ticks can also cause severe problems for your cat, with paralysis ticks found on the East Coast of Australia (from Northern Queensland to Victoria) all year round.
Signs of Tick or Spider Bites in Cats
In the case of a spider bite, you might notice puncture wounds or swelling although these can be difficult to see initially depending on the length and thickness of your cat’s fur. Red Back spiders commonly bite cats on their face or paws but are also likely to bite their tongue, so the first sign of a spider bite may be your cat’s tongue extending out from its mouth. As the venom from a spider bite travels and the area begins to swell, your cat will show obvious signs of pain and distress.
If a paralysis tick bites your cat, they will usually remain attached to your cat’s body, hidden in its fur. Unlike snake and spider bites where symptoms are fairly immediate, the signs of a tick bite can take anywhere from a few hours to a few days to show.
Additionally, signs of a tick or spider bite may include:
Lack of appetite
Vomiting, dry retching or coughing
Drooling or excessive saliva
Trouble breathing and difficulty swallowing
Shivering or fever
Change in meow – in the case of paralysis ticks, this is one of the first signs of the paralysing venom taking hold
Lack of co-ordination and muscle weakness. If your cat has been bitten by a paralysis tick, weakness often starts in the back legs and progresses from there. If your cat has an anaphylactic reaction to a spider bite this could lead to their complete collapse and coma.
What to do if your cat has been bitten by a tick or spider
You can safely remove a tick from your cat’s body as long as you’re very careful – use tweezers, a specialist tick remover (you can purchase these from your vet or local pet store) or your fingernails and firmly grasp the tick’s head as close to your cat’s skin as possible, then twist and pull it out applying steady pressure. You must be careful not to squeeze the tick, which will release more toxins into your cat’s system.
If you think your cat has been bitten by a spider, try to keep him as still as possible to stop the venom from travelling further around his body, and wash the bite wound area thoroughly with soap and water.
Whether your cat has been bitten by a spider or a tick, it’s essential that you take him to the vet straight away, where they’ll treat him appropriately. IV fluids are essential to prevent dehydration, oxygen may be required if your cat is having difficulty breathing, and an anti-serum (for ticks) or anti-venom (for snake bites) is also likely to be required. You cat will probably require a short vet hospital stay (1-3 days) until he is fully recovered.
How to Prevent Your Cat Being Bitten by Ticks and Spiders
If you do let your cat go outside, try to stop him from exploring areas where there’s a high probability that they’ll be ticks and spiders present, such as bushland. Unfortunately, ticks and spiders are also increasingly found in built-up, suburban areas so the most effective way of protecting your cat from tick and spider bites is to keep him indoors and provide plenty of environmental enrichment.
If you do have an outdoor cat and live in a tick prone area (e.g. the East Coast of Australia) it’s important to check your cat for paralysis ticks on a regular basis as well as apply a tick and flea prevention product. These are available as spot-on treatments, tablets, collars and oral liquid so ask your vet for their recommendation on the best level of protection for your cat and for the particular area where you live.
Has your cat ever been bitten by a paralysis tick or poisonous spider? Please share your story in the comments below.