Cats may have nine lives, but snakebites should still be taken seriously!

By Maddie Topliff
May 06, 2021
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Orange tabby cat stands in long grass
Credit: Christopher Freeman / Getty

Some cats are perfectly content with being strictly indoors at all times. But for felines that roam the outdoors, there's a chance a curious cat could encounter a snake who isn't their biggest fan. So, what do you do if your cat suffers a snakebite?

Cat Snakebite Symptoms

If your cat has been bitten by a snake, they may start to exhibit certain symptoms. Unlike dogs, symptoms may not appear immediately, but instead within 12-24 hours after your cat is bitten. Keep an eye out for these signs.

  • Bite marks
  • Pain and swelling around the bite
  • Bleeding from the bite
  • Slow or ragged breathing
  • Limping (cats are most often bitten on the leg)
  • Whimpering from pain
  • Sedation/sluggish behavior
  • Nausea
  • Shock

Note: Some of these symptoms may not transpire if the snake that bit your cat was non-venomous. But you should still pursue medical care regardless if only a portion of listed symptoms are present.

What to Do When Your Cat Has Been Bitten by a Snake

First things first, call your veterinarian to let them know that you're en route to their office, even if you're 100 percent sure that the bite was non-venomous. Wounds can still get infected, whether venom was involved or not. Once you contact your vet, try to keep the wound below heart level so that blood flow is discouraged from spreading the venom.

Your vet office may ask you to identify the snake either over the phone or in person, but do not focus on trying to catch the snake. Remove both you and your cat from the situation, as it is recommended by professionals in the majority of cases to not try and handle the snake yourself. Snakes can always strike again if they choose not to escape. Contacting Animal Control is a safer option for all involved once you've gotten your cat cared for by a veterinarian.

Try and keep your cat calm on the way to the vet. They may lash out because of the pain and need comfort, especially if the bite was on their face and is swelling. 

How to Treat a Snakebite on a Cat

It's important to remember that home remedies are not a substitute for veterinary care. Applying a tourniquet to your cat is actually discouraged, as it may contribute to tissue death instead of just stopping the wound from bleeding.

It's also discouraged to try and suck the venom out of the bite—this is a myth method and is about as effective as trying to remove a vaccine from a human's arm once it's administered. It also takes away from the time that your cat could be receiving treatment from a professional.

Once you arrive at the veterinarian, the doctor will attempt to establish whether or not the bite was venomous. Even if the bite is ruled venomous, you don't need to panic just yet. A recent study out of the University of Queensland suggests that cats are twice as likely to survive a venomous snakebite when compared to dogs.

"For a long time, it was sort of just this [wives'] tale, Natalie Marks, DVM of VCA Blum Animal Hospital in Chicago says. "But basically what it is is that they've discovered the clotting cascade in cats is actually different than in dogs. When dogs get bitten by a snake, their blood clotting system actually fails sooner than cats."

Cats are also more likely to be bitten on parts of the body that have a better prognosis such as the leg or paw, due to their "stealth predator" behavior, Marks says.

Still, you are correct to seek medical care, as doctors will want to monitor your cat for signs of envenomization such as shock or difficulty breathing. After the correct antivenom is injected, then your veterinarian will continue to examine your cat's internal organs to see if there were any resounding effects from the bite.

Cat Snake Bite Aftercare

For non-venomous bites, doctors will ask you to monitor the area of the bite for a recovery period of about 3–5 days to make sure the wound is healing correctly and regenerating tissue.

For venomous bites, depending on the damage, your veterinarian could prescribe anything from a modified diet to liver supplements in order to make sure internal organs are recovering from the damage that envenomization caused.

And above all, keep your cat indoors.

How to Prevent Future Snake Bites

Plain and simple: the best thing you can do to prevent your cat from suffering from future snakebites is to keep them indoors. Life expectancy for indoor cats is significantly greater than life expectancy for outdoor cats just because of the increased risks of the outdoors.

If you're worried about your cat feeling too cooped up, you could get them a comfy harness  and pursue leash training to get them out of the house. Just make sure to stay on paved paths during the daytime in order to prevent random snake encounters.

Whether they tell you or not, your cat is most likely very content right where they are—next to you on the couch.