What snakes are dangerous to cats in the United States?

There are poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes distributed throughout North America. Normally bites from nonpoisonous snakes do not cause swelling or pain. There are four poisonous species: cottonmouths (water moccasins), rattlesnakes, copperheads and coral snakes. Rattlesnakes, cottonmouths and copperheads are pit vipers. They can be identified by their large size of 1.2 to 2.4 m long. They have triangular heads with pits below the eyes, the pupils are elliptical, the scales are rough and they have retractable fangs in the upper jaw. Coral snakes are smaller as about .9 m long with a small head and black nose. They have brightly coloured alternating bands of red, yellow and black which encircle the body. The fangs are not retractable.

Coral snake
Coral snake. Photo: Pixabay.
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In 90% of the cases of snake bites it involves the head and legs. If a snake bites a cat on the body, it is usually lethal. To diagnose whether a cat has been bitten by a poisonous snake or a nonpoisonous snake you assess the teeth marks from the bite, the behaviour of the cat and if possible, you identify the species of snake.

The teeth marks from a nonpoisonous snake does not have the marks from the upper jaw fangs and the teeth marks are more spaced (and there are less of them) than for a nonpoisonous snake.

25% of poisonous snake bites contain no venom and therefore there is no reaction in terms of pain and swelling but the cat may still become sick. Sometimes a cat can suffer from severe venom poisoning even though there is no local reaction to a bite.

It may take several hours for the venom to take effect depending upon variables such as the time of year, the species of snake, the toxicity of the venom, the amount of venom injected into the cat, the location of the bite and the health and size of the cat concerned. The quantity of venom does not depend upon the size of the snake. The venom of the coal snake is a neurotoxin. It affects the nerves causing weakness and paralysis. The symptoms are urinary incontinence, diarrhoea, vomiting, paralysis, convulsions and coma. Some cats survive.

In general, the symptoms of a snake bite on a cat include: weakness, drooling, panting, extreme restlessness followed by diarrhoea, depressed breathing, collapse, sometimes seizures, shock and death in the worst cases.

If your cat has been bitten and if you are within 30 minutes of a veterinary hospital go there immediately. If not, I would telephone a veterinarian and ask for immediate advice. I’m not going to give advice about veterinary matters on this website. I used to do that but I decided that it is not wise to do so as I am unqualified. Perhaps it is advisable to read up about snake bite treatments as a precaution so that you can take immediate steps to mitigate the effects.

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