How long does it take a cat to recover from a spider bite?
September 24, 2010 10:52 PM   Subscribe

Our cat has been salivating, lethargic, and had an irritated nose and tongue. Our vet diagnosed a spider bite. How long should the symptoms persist?

Our outgoing, sweet, snuggly cat hasn't been feeling well. On Tuesday, he slept heavily all day, waking only to eat and drink (once). On Wednesday, he slept all day, but we noticed he was drooling heavily. On Thursday, his nose started looking red and irritated, and he wasn't eating much at all and was only drinking a bit. He was still salivating, but was also occasionally chewing his spit - almost like he had a chewy caramel in his mouth, just moving his jaws up and down over and over, for several minutes at a time.

We took him to the vet, and the vet diagnosed a spider bite to the mouth from a wolf spider. He said our cat was in good shape, well hydrated, and that the salivating, irritation, and sleepiness were all as a result of the wold spider's bite. He gave our cat a shot of antihistime and a shot of antibiotic, and sent us home.

Fast-forward to Friday evening. He's doing better - he is livelier, not sleeping as much and playful. But he's still eating and drinking delicately (he usually destroys his food) and salivating. He also hasn't groomed himself since Monday, though he did give his tail a few token swipes today.

Does anyone have experience with these kind of symptoms, and how they might possibly last? He seems physically in good shape, but obviously not happy. If it matters, the cat is a healthy 4 y/o who weighs 22 lbs, is slightly underweight for his frame (according to the vet), and lives in California.
posted by arnicae to Pets & Animals (12 answers total)
Spider bite aside, an overweight cat that doesn't eat for >3 days is at risk of hepatic lipidosis.
I recommend a recheck with the vet.
posted by metaseeker at 11:47 PM on September 24, 2010

or even a cat of normal weight.
posted by metaseeker at 11:49 PM on September 24, 2010

Unfortunately, I don't know anything about spider bites, but if you're looking for uninformed guidance, here is the course of action I would take: What are you feeding him? If dry food, can you try him wet food to tempt him to eat & keep him hydrated? It sounds like he's improved over the last day. I would reevaulate his condition tomorrow - if he seems further improved, I would just keep an eye on him over the weekend. If he seems worse, I'd take him in then.
posted by studioaudience at 12:06 AM on September 25, 2010

a spider bite to the mouth from a wolf spider
Ouch! I'd suggest his minimal grooming, delicate eating and salivating is because your poor puss has a very sore mouth and/or tongue. Hopefully it should continue to repair itself over the next few days.
posted by Kerasia at 12:35 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

@metaseeker the OP has already sought medical help, and their cat has been improving. At no point did the OP say their cat had stopped eating... just a reduced appetite. You're inferring a much more dire situation than has been conveyed.

Ultimately the OP is responsible for the care of their pet, and I think they're doing a fine job. It's only been two or three days since the vet visit and the OP is obviously monitoring the cat's condition closely.
posted by sbutler at 2:42 AM on September 25, 2010

IANAV. I am involved in veterinary education, however, and I am an eavesdropper/inquisitive/obnoxious shadow. .

arnicae, metaseeker has given a great short answer. I am going to elaborate on it. Brevity is great, but I understand sometimes people like the technical explanation.

Here is why reduced appetite leading to reduced intake in a cat can be more serious than it sounds: hepatic lipidosis can set in for some more-susceptible felines after only 2-3 days of 50% reduced intake. Hepatic lipidosis=fatty liver disease. When people start burning fat for fuel in 'starvation metabolism,' we do pretty darn well. We can rock lipid mobilization and breaking down fats into ketone bodies for fuel. This is why you can put most metabolically normal humans on a ketogenic diet for epilepsy and not kill them. Cats have fragile livers compared to us--breaking down fat into ketone bodies for fuel is very hard on that organ, and it's not very good at it.* So fat builds up in the liver at a much faster rate than the liver can break it down, and the cat ends up with fatty liver disease. Then you have a problem. You have to get the cat out of starvation metabolism and halt the mobilization of lipids into the liver--one sign of which is even greater reduction in appetitie and increased nausea, leading the kitty to avoid food more--and keep it there to give the sick, already slowed-down liver enough time to sloooooowly clear out the build-up in fat while the sick liver also does everything else it should be doing. At the point of fatty liver disease, it's not usually performing its other jobs very well either, and depending on the stage, liver tissue may be dying off, so you have to monitor to make sure some other secondary dysfunction isn't occurring that requires medical management. Untreated, hepatic lipidosis is often fatal. Because livers are individual, the point of overload into fatty liver disease is also individual. Hence, advice to call your vet at the low end of the risk time. Because it is a mess once it starts, and takes a long time and a lot of effort to sort out.

Usually hepatic lipidosis requires either more reduction in food intake or a longer duration of reduced intake--but not always. How can you tell if your cat may be more susceptible to hepatic lipidosis than other cats? The biggest correlation that I am aware of is obesity, although I believe cats with a higher carbohydrate ratio (i.e., even high-quality kibble compared to high-quality wet food) in their daily diet are also more prone. However, again, this is not always the case. Sometimes trim cats come down with hepatic lipidosis, especially if they're under other physiologic stress.

There are real veterinarians and veterinary technicians in clinical practice on MeFi who can probably give a better explanation, and I apologize for mistakes and invite corrections, but there is one long-form answer.

You may be able to call your vet today and ask for advice if they have Saturday hours. I suggest doing so if possible. If your cat is still eating and drinking some, which you say he is, I suspect they'll have you observe him and look for vomiting or worsening of anorexia, and suggest you tempt him with deliciousness.

While you're making the call, here is some practical 'get more food and moisture in the cat' advice. You might try tempting your kitty with some high-quality wet food, warmed slightly in the microwave, to make it extra-appealing. I have also successfully tempted my cat with a mix of chopped cooked chicken with a small amount of cooked liver (liver is good stuff, but it's pretty packed with nutrients, and it's easy to go overboard). This is not a long-term diet choice--just something to keep the kitty more interested in food, and if that works, at the next meal, I add a bit of cooked chicken-and-liver to warm wet food, etc.

Finally, I ask that you please disregard the poster who expressed such disdain for the veterinary professionals and associated veterinary health professionals. It is entirely possible that s/he has had bad or unfortunate experiences, or encountered poor care. Like providers in all fields, veterinary health providers and caregivers can be incompetent, and even the best providers make human mistakes.

*OTOH, your cat can handle a mg/kg dose of Fentanyl that would render the average human comatose or dead. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:50 AM on September 25, 2010 [2 favorites]

Take him to a different vet for a second opinion. I had a similar situation with a cat once. The first vet wasn't quite sure and said to wait it out, which we did for a while. Eventually we took him to a different vet who diagnosed it as a snake bite within about 30 seconds of looking at him. The vet said if we'd gotten the cat to her sooner, she could gave helped. The outcome was fatal kidney damage.
posted by Dr. ShadowMask at 6:41 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Make sure you're helping him keep groomed. He's a handsome cat, but looks like he's got some medium-long fur, and if you don't keep on top of it for him, it could get matted and uncomfortable. Use a brush if you have one and a washcloth (delicately!) around his face.

It sounds like he's getting better but is maybe just sore still around his mouth. If he's acting hungry, or still not eating enough, maybe you can offer some food that takes a little less effort to eat. Baby food (the meat stuff - smells nasty, but so does cat food) got my cat's interest last week when she wouldn't eat for another medical problem. Good luck!!
posted by eldiem at 6:57 AM on September 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

The issue that stands out for me is that it is nearly impossible to definitively diagnose something as a "spider bite". There are a lot of arthropods that bite that leave similar bite marks, and spider bite seems to be a nice catch all for all variety of medical folk. The only one that is really obvious is the bite of a brown recluse, due to the tissue necrosis involved.

Does he have something stuck in the roof of his mouth like a needle (not unheard of)? Did he get into something caustic?

I would get a second opinion.
posted by bolognius maximus at 6:57 AM on September 25, 2010

In the meantime, can you offer your kitty something that will go down easier, like baby food? Make sure that the food you choose has no onions or garlic in it- alliums are toxic to cats.
posted by pickypicky at 9:53 AM on September 25, 2010

The issue that stands out for me is that it is nearly impossible to definitively diagnose something as a "spider bite"....

I would get a second opinion.

Seconding this by bolognius maximus. A study on spider bites in humans determined that the majority of "spider bite" diagnoses by doctors were incorrect. Simply put, medical professionals aren't generally qualified to diagnose such things... but many think that they are.

OTOH, knowing whether it is a venomous bite (and many wolf spiders are either nonvenomous, or trivially venomous as far as large mammals are concerned), an allergic reaction, or something else entirely, is very important to your pet's health treatment. Seek a second opinion, and don't bias the new vet with the previous diagnosis.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:02 PM on September 25, 2010

Hi everyone,

OP here: cat is fine. His diet and drinking are back to normal, though his tongue is still a little tender. He is back to his normal activities and is chipper once more. We like and trust our vet, and opted to not get a second opinion.
posted by arnicae at 11:37 AM on September 28, 2010

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