Cats are twice as likely to survive a venomous snakebite than dogs, and thereasons behind this phenomenon have been revealed by University of Queenslandresearch.

The research team, led by PhD student Christina Zdenek and Associate ProfessorBryan Fry, compared the effects of snake venoms on the blood clotting agentsin dogs and cats, hoping to help save the lives of our furry friends.

“Snakebite is a common occurrence for pet cats and dogs across the globe andcan be fatal,” Dr Fry said.

“This is primarily due to a condition called ‘venom-induced consumptivecoagulopathy’ – where an animal loses its ability to clot blood and sadlybleeds to death.

“In Australia, the eastern brown snake ( Pseudonaja textilis ) alone isresponsible for an estimated 76 per cent of reported domestic pet snakebiteseach year.

“And while only 31 per cent of dogs survive being bitten by an eastern brownsnake without antivenom, cats are twice as likely to survive – at 66 percent.”

Cats also have a significantly higher survival rate if given antivenomtreatment and, until now, the reasons behind this disparity were unknown.

Dr Fry and his team used a coagulation analyser to test the effects of easternbrown snake venom – as well as 10 additional venoms found around the world –on dog and cat plasma in the lab.

“All venoms acted faster on dog plasma than cat or human,” Mrs Zdenek said.

“This indicates that dogs would likely enter a state where blood clottingfails sooner and are therefore more vulnerable to these snake venoms.

“The spontaneous clotting time of the blood – even without venom – wasdramatically faster in dogs than in cats.

“This suggests that the naturally faster clotting blood of dogs makes themmore vulnerable to these types of snake venoms.

“And this is consistent with clinical records showing more rapid onset ofsymptoms and lethal effects in dogs than cats.”

Several behavioural differences between cats and dogs are also highly likelyto increase the chances of dogs dying from venomous snake bite.

“Dogs typically investigate with their nose and mouth, which are highlyvascularised areas, whereas cats often swat with their paws,” Dr Fry said.

“And dogs are usually more active than cats, which is not great after a bitehas taken place because the best practice is to remain as still as possible toslow the spread of venom through the body.”

The researchers hope their insights can lead to a better awareness of thecritically short period of time to get treatment for dogs envenomed by snakes.

“As dog lovers ourselves, this study strikes close to home but it also hasglobal implications,” Dr Fry said.

“I’ve had two friends lose big dogs to snakebites, dying in less than tenminutes even though the eastern brown snakes responsible were not particularlylarge specimens.

“This underscores how devastatingly fast and fatal snake venom can be todogs.”

Snake image above: Pseudonaja textilis by Stewart Macdonald

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