Spiders, Snakes and Other Spooky Pet Poison Dangers

The Details

Chocolate Isn’t the Only Scary Threat This Halloween

Halloween conjures up many images, including spiders, snakes, ghosts and, for many revelers, buckets of candy. Most pet lovers know not to give their animals chocolate, but spiders and snakes can also pose a real danger to pets.  As families celebrate this frightening haunted holiday, the toxicology experts at Pet Poison Helpline® want to warn pet lovers about other real scares like spiders and snakes that can seriously sicken or kill your pet in this month’s installment of Toxin Tails.

“We live in the country near a limestone quarry, so we are aware that snakes are a concern,” said Lisa Brovold, whose dog Wiley was bitten. “Wiley is usually very good about going outside by himself, but we heard him barking strangely and suspected immediately what had happened. I had heard what I thought was cicadas making noise in the driveway, but it turned out to be a timber rattlesnake. Wiley must have run by it on his way to relieve himself and he was bitten.”

“It was after hours on a weekend, and I knew our regular vet in West Des Moines was closed,” Brovold explained. “The first thing I did was Google ‘poison hotline,’ which turned out to be for humans. They gave me the number for Pet Poison Helpline®. I also called a veterinarian in our county who would more likely have experience with rattlesnake bites. He recommended that we take Wiley to an emergency veterinary hospital in Des Moines about 45 minutes away. I called and let them know what happened and when we would arrive.  By the time we got there, the veterinarian and Pet Poison Helpline® toxicologists were developing a treatment plan.” Being a trusted source for pet toxicology advice, Pet Poison Helpline® is highly recommended by human poison control centers and veterinary professionals.

Clinical signs of rattlesnake bites include acute difficulty breathing, blood clotting abnormalities (resulting in bruising and bleeding), abnormal breathing (due to fluid shifts to the lungs and pericardial edema), dermal injury (resulting in tissue sloughing), cardiovascular shock, and even organ failure. Wiley was given strong pain medication, IV fluids, liver protectants and antibiotics. The hospital did not have antivenin available, but Wiley was able to make a full recovery thanks to the supportive care he received the following two days.  He was then sent home with antibiotics, pain medication and liver protectants.

In addition to snakes, another common Halloween scare is spiders.

“Spider bites are not only dangerous to humans, but to our pets as well” said Renee Schmid, DVM, DABT, DABVT, a senior veterinary toxicologist at Pet Poison Helpline®. “We recently received a call from a veterinarian in Santa Fe whose feline client Hobbes had encountered a well-known creepy crawler. The cat’s owner found him howling, with flaccid paralysis and tremors, next to the remnants of a black widow spider. Once at the hospital, his condition worsened, and he began to vomit and have seizures. Although they could not find an actual bite wound or swelling in the mouth, Hobbes was showing signs of being bitten by a black widow spider. Fortunately, the hospital was able to locate the appropriate antivenin and administered two doses intravenously. Hobbes was also given diazepam and methocarbamol to help with muscle spasms, tremors and seizures. He responded extremely well to his treatment and has made a full recovery.”

Black widow spiders (Lactrodectus spp), which are found throughout North America (except for Alaska), are poisonous to dogs and cats. Female black widow spiders typically are 2-2.5 cm in length, are black, shiny, and have an orange or red hourglass mark on their underside. Immature females are brown in color, and the hourglass shape darkens with age. Males are brown and lack the hourglass mark and are generally considered non-toxic due to the small size of their fangs, preventing them from having a large bite. These spiders carry a potent venom which is a neurotoxin (a-latrotoxin). Dogs and cats bitten by black widow spiders may show clinical signs of severe muscle pain, cramping, walking drunk, tremors, paralysis, blood pressure changes, drooling, vomiting, diarrhea and death. Treatment includes the use of an antivenom, IV fluids, anti-seizure medications, pain medications and symptomatic supportive care.

Spiders and snakes are a real concern, but the number one threat to pets during Halloween continues to be chocolate.

“While we haven’t received any emergency calls involving ghosts, chocolate remains the number one concern when it comes to Halloween celebrations,” said Dr. Schmid. “The severity of chocolate poisoning varies greatly depending on the type and amount of chocolate ingested and the size of the pet. The darker and less sweet the chocolate, the more toxic it can be to dogs. Ingestion of the wrappers or packaging can also be a concern as they can sometimes cause an obstruction in the stomach or intestines. Also be aware that some chocolate-containing products may include other toxins such as macadamia nutsraisinscoffee or espresso beans, or xylitol.”

Whether your pet is out trick-or-treating with the family, or at home greeting visitors, it is important to keep a very close eye on what is around them. In addition to the potential poisoning dangers, pets can also be overwhelmed by new or loud experiences. If you have a particularly sensitive pet, you may want to find a quiet room or space in your home to keep them away from your Halloween festivities.

Pet Poison Helpline® created Toxin Tails to educate the veterinary community and pet lovers on the many types of poisoning dangers facing pets, both in and out of the home. All the pets highlighted in Toxin Tails have been successfully treated for the poisoning and fully recovered.


About Pet Poison Helpline®

Pet Poison Helpline®, your trusted source for toxicology and pet health advice in times of potential emergency, is available 24 hours, seven days a week for pet owners and veterinary professionals who require assistance treating a potentially poisoned pet. We are an independent, nationally recognized animal poison control center triple licensed by the Boards of Veterinary Medicine, Medicine and Pharmacy providing unmatched professional leadership and expertise. Our veterinarians and board-certified toxicologists provide treatment advice for poisoning cases of all species, including dogs, cats, birds, small mammals, large animals and exotic species. As the most cost-effective option for animal poison control care, Pet Poison Helpline®’s fee of $85 per incident includes follow-up consultations for the duration of the case. Based in Minneapolis, Pet Poison Helpline® is available in North America by calling 800-213-6680. Additional information can be found online at www.petpoisonhelpline.com.