Why is it important?
There are several species of spider in Australia which can affect pets, with symptoms varying from local irritation to potential fatality. Spider species of most concern include the Redback Spider, Funnel-Web Spider, White-tail Spider and the Australian Tarantula species.
What causes it?
When spiders bite humans or animals, their venom contains a toxin which can cause a variety of effects depending on the spider species, varying from local irritation, to an area of tissue necrosis, to more widespread pain and neurological symptoms leading to death.
What animals are at risk?
Both dogs and cats can be affected by spider bites. The most common situations where pets may be bitten by spiders include if they are sleeping in areas where these spider species are present, or if they come into contact with the spiders when walking outside. Curious young animals may also be at risk if they discover and try to play with a spider that is nearby. Spiders can be present almost anywhere in Australia, with some spider species only found in certain geographical areas.
What are the symptoms?
Local pain, swelling and irritation at the site of a possible bite, including the development of unhealing sores. A focal area of skin which becomes infected or necrotic.
Whilst not common, with the more venomous spider species, symptoms can progress to neurological symptoms such as weakness, muscle tremors and paralysis, or more general symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhoea, restlessness and breathing difficulties.
Depending on the individual situation, a common red flag for a spider bite on a pet may be a small focal area of pain, swelling, irritation or tissue necrosis.
What first aid can I do?
If you notice a spider near your pet, or your pet begins showing any signs of a spider bite, such as local irritation or other symptoms, then seek veterinary attention.
How is it diagnosed?
The diagnosis of spider bite in pets can be difficult to confirm, and it is usually considered as part of a list of multiple possible causes for your pet’s symptoms, based on the local evidence of an area of skin irritation or tissue necrosis.
How can it be treated?
The treatment of spider bite will vary depending on the extent of the symptoms present. Local areas of skin irritation or tissue necrosis may be treated with medications to aid healing and prevent secondary infection. Sometimes surgery may be required to debride areas of infected tissue. Further supportive treatment will be started by your vet if there is evidence of more severe nervous system symptoms.
Can I prevent it?
Spiders love taking up residence in every manner of nook and cranny. Regularly check your pets bedding or sleeping area for the presence of spiders – with regular cleaning (sweeping, vacuuming) and washing of bedding, will reduce the likelihood of spiders taking up residence. Pest management companies can also assist with spraying for spiders. Be careful when exercising your pet in areas where particular spider species are known to be prevalent. Monitor your pet for any signs of local irritation (licking an area on their skin) or if an unhealing sore develops.