Feline Emergency :: Spiderbite Toxicity
Envenomation of animals by spiders is relatively uncommon and difficult to recognize. It
may be suspected on clinical signs, but confirmatory evidence is rare. Spiders of medical
importance in the USA do not inflict particularly painful bites, so it is unusual for a spider
bite to be suspected until clinical signs appear. It is also unlikely that the offending spider
will remain in close proximity to the victum for the time (30 min to 6 hours) required for
signs to develop. Almost all spiders are venomous, but few possess the attributes
necessary to cause clinical envenomation in mammals: mouth parts of sufficient size to
allow penetration of the skin, and toxin of sufficient quantity or potency to result in
The spiders in the USA that are capable of causing clinical envenomation belong to two
groups - Widow Spiders (Lactrodectus) and Brown Spiders (mostly Loxosceles).
Widow Spiders: Widow spiders usually bite only when accidental skin contact occurs.
The most common species is the black widow , Lactrodectus mactans, characterized by
the red hourglass shape on her ventral abdomen. In the western states, the western black
widow, L hesperus, predominates, while the brown widow, L bishopi, is found in the south,
and the red widow, L geometricus, is found in Florida.
Lactrodectus venom is one of the most potent biologic toxins. The most important of its
five or six components is a neurotoxin that causes release of the neurotransmitters
norepinephrine and acetylcholine at synaptic junctions, which continues until the
neurotransmitters are depleted. The resulting severe, painful cramping of all large muscle
groups account for most of the clinical signs.
Unless there is a history of a widow spider bite, diagnosis must be based on clinical signs,
Which include restlessness with apparent anxiety or apprehension; rapid, shallow, irregular
respiration; shock; abdominal rigidity or tenderness; and painful muscle rigidity, sometimes
accompanied by intermittent relaxation (which may progress to clonus and eventually to
respiratory paralysis). Partial paresis also has been described.
An antivenin (equine origin) is commercially available but is usually reserved for confirmed
bites of high-risk individuals (very young or very old). Symptomatic treatment is usually
sufficient but may require a combination of therapeutic agents. Calcium gluconate IV is
reportedly helpful . Meperidine hydrochloride or morphine, also given IV, provides relief
from pain and produces muscle relaxation. Muscle relaxants and diazepam are also
beneficial. Tetanus antitoxin also should be administered. Recovery may be prolonged;
Weakness and even partial paralysis may persist for several days.
Brown Spiders: There are at least 10 species of Loxosceles spiders in the USA, but the
brown recluse spider L reclusa, is the most common, and envenomation by it is typical
of that by the others. These spiders have a violin shaped marking on the cephalothororax,
although it may be indistinct or absent in some species. In the northwestern USA, the
unrelated spider Tegenaria agrestis reportedly causes a clinically indistinguishable
dermonecrosis in man and presumably in other animals. Brown recluse spider venom has
vasoconstrictive, thrombotic, hemolytic and necrotizing properties. It contains several
enzymes, including a phospholipase that attacks cell membranes. Pathogenetic mechanisms
of the characteristic dermal necrosis are poorly understood, but activation of complement,
chemotaxis, and accumulations of neutrophils affect (or amplify) the process.
A history of a bite by the "fiddleback" brown spider is useful but rare. A presumptive
diagnosis may be based on the presence of a discrete, erythematous, intensely pruritic
skin lesion that may have irregular ecchymoses. Within 4-8 hours, a vesicle develops at
the bite wound, and sometimes a blanched zone circumscribes the erythmatous area,
imparting a "bull's-eye" appearance to the lesion. The central area sometimes appears
pale or cyanotic. The vesicle may degenerate to an ulcer that, unless treated in a timely
manner, may enlarge and extend to underlying tissues, including muscle. Sometimes, a
pustule follows the vesicle and, on its breakdown, a black eschar remains. The final tissue
defect may be extensive and indolent and require months to heal. However, medical
authorities claim that not al brown recluse spider bites result in severe, localized
Systemic signs sometimes accompany brown recluse spider envenomation and may not
appear for 3-4 days after the bite. Hemolysis, thrombocytopenia, and disseminated
intravascular coagulation (DIC) are more likely to occur in cases with severe dermal
necrosis. Fever, vomiting, edema, hemoglobinuria, hemolytic anemia, renal failulre, and
shock may result from systemic loxoscelism.
In known bites, early treatment can be successful, but unfortunately, many cases are
not recognizable until cutaneous necrosis has become extensive; treatment at that stage
is less rewarding (but still of value). Immediate application of cold packs is beneficial and
if administered early, corticosteroids protect against cutaneous necrosis by stabilizing
cell membranes and suppressing chemotaxis. Corticosteroids also tend to protect against
systemic involvement. Radical excision has been advocated, but its value is questionable.
Dapsone, an inhibitor of leukocyte function, which is frequently used in the treatment of
eprosy, is currently considered the drug of choice for brown recluse spider bites. Broad-
spectrum antibiotics are useful in preventing secondary infection, and tetanus immuno-
prophylaxis should be considered.
Source- Merck Veterinary Manual, 8th Ed © 1998 Merck & Co., Inc.
If you feel your kitty may have been bitten by a spider, do not waste time, get your kitty to an emergency veterinary hospital immediately, time may be of the essence. Severe allergic reactions and skin and tissue necrosis are fast-acting, DO NOT DELAY in seeking immediate emergency veterinary treatment!
National Animal Poison Control Center: (888) 426-4435
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