Lizard Bite Poisoning in Cats

By PetMD Editorial on Nov. 1, 2012

Lizard Venom Toxicity in Cats

In terms of lizards, the Gila Monster (Heloderma suspectum) and the Mexican Beaded Lizard (H. horridum) are the only ones to be seriously concerned about. These lizards live almost exclusively in the American Southwest and Mexico.

While Gila Monsters and Mexican Beaded Lizards are normally docile and do not often attack, it is important to be aware of the danger if a bite does occur. These lizards have a tendency to bite hard and not let go. In order to release its bite, use a prying instrument to open the lizard's jaws. It has also been found that a flame held under the lizard’s jaw will cause it let go.

These lizards have about forty teeth, which are grooved and not attached to the jaws very firmly, allowing them to be broken off and regrown throughout their lives. There are two glands in the back of the lower jaw where the venom is stored in a pocket next to the outside teeth and then released through a duct when the lizard bites. The venom is then projected along the grooves of the teeth and into the victim. Salivation increases with the intensity of the anger of the lizard. When that occurs, the amount of venom injected into the victim also increases. Statistically, venom from bites will be deposited into a cat about 70 percent of the time.

The venom of the two lizards is very similar. However, in contrast to the venom of most snakes, it does not have an anticoagulant effect. Even so, it has been shown in lab tests to be just as potent as some rattlesnake venoms.

Symptoms and Types of Lizard Venom Toxicity

  • Bleeding from the wound
  • Low blood pressure
  • Swelling
  • Excessive salivation
  • Tearing of the eyes
  • Frequent urination and defecation
  • Weakness
  • Irregular heart rhythm
  • Extreme pain at the wound site
  • Loss of voice

Diagnosis of Lizard Venom Toxicity

Blood analyses, urinalyses, X-rays, and ultrasound results are usually normal but may be performed to rule out other diseases if the cause is in doubt. An EKG (electrocardiogram) to check for irregular heart rhythm will likely be necessary. Your cat’s blood pressure will also need to be checked.

Treatment for Lizard Venom Toxicity

  • Open the jaws of the lizard if it’s still attached
  • If the cat’s blood pressure is dangerously low or if the heart rhythms are abnormal, intravenous (IV) drugs will be administered to treat the arrhythmia
  • Flush and soak the wound
  • If there are any remnants of the lizard’s teeth left behind in the skin, remove them
  • Control pain
  • Treat with prophylactic antibiotics

Living and Management of Lizard Venom Toxicity

The cat must be taken to a veterinarian if you suspect it has been bitten by one of these lizards. The veterinarian will then prescribe treatment and medications. Pay close attention to the wound and report any changes. Most importantly, if you live in an area where these lizards are likely to roam, keep your cat confined to avoid exposure.

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