Experts at the University of Queensland are describing why cats are twice as likely to survive a venomous snake bite compared to dogs. The researchers discovered that after a snake bite, blood clotting begins much faster in dogs.
“Snakebite is a common occurrence for pet cats and dogs across the globe and can be fatal,” said study co-author Dr. Brian Fry. “This is primarily due to a condition called ‘venom-induced consumptive coagulopathy’ – where an animal loses its ability to clot blood and sadly bleeds to death.”
According to Dr. Fry, the eastern brown snake is responsible for an estimated 76 percent of reported domestic pet snakebites each year in Australia.
“And while only 31 percent of dogs survive being bitten by an eastern brown snake without antivenom, cats are twice as likely to survive – at 66 percent.”
Cats also have a significantly higher survival rate if they receive antivenom treatment. Prior to this study, the phenomenon remained a mystery.
The researchers set out to compare the effects of snake venoms on the blood clotting agents in dogs and cats. They used a coagulation analyzer to test the effects of eastern brown snake venom and 10 additional venoms on dog and cat plasma in the lab.
“All venoms acted faster on dog plasma than cat or human,” said study co-author Christina Zdenek.
“This indicates that dogs would likely enter a state where blood clotting fails sooner and are therefore more vulnerable to these snake venoms.”
Zdenek explained that the spontaneous clotting time of the blood was dramatically faster in dogs than in cats, even without venom.
“This suggests that the naturally faster clotting blood of dogs makes them more vulnerable to these types of snake venoms,” said Zdenek. “And this is consistent with clinical records showing more rapid onset of symptoms and lethal effects in dogs than cats.”
The researchers pointed out behavioral differences among dogs and cats that likely increase the chances that a venomous snake bite will prove fatal for dogs.
“Dogs typically investigate with their nose and mouth, which are highly vascularised areas, whereas cats often swat with their paws,” said Dr. Fry. “And dogs are usually more active than cats, which is not great after a bite has taken place because the best practice is to remain as still as possible to slow the spread of venom through the body.”
The researchers hope their findings will lead to a higher awareness of the critically short window available to rescue dogs after venomous snake bites.
“As dog lovers ourselves, this study strikes close to home but it also has global implications,” said Dr. Fry. “I’ve had two friends lose big dogs to snakebites, dying in less than ten minutes even though the eastern brown snakes responsible were not particularly large specimens.”
“This underscores how devastatingly fast and fatal snake venom can be to dogs.”
The study is published in the journal Comparative Biochemistry and Physiology Part C: Toxicology & Pharmacology.
By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer