Harper’s Spider-bite Horror-show!

So often, we have owners tells us they think their pet has been bitten by a spider. Very seldom has this actually happened. In Harper’s case, we think that genuinely was the problem and it made for a horrible time for poor Harper and her owners, Matthew and Bianca Simunsen.

Harper is a delightful little Australian Bulldog girl. She came in on New Year’s Eve with a swollen face and this progressed to her having an awful time of it over the next week and more. What started out as a localised reaction on her face developed into a massive degree of cell breakdown and a very nasty infection of her face, mouth and throat.

At one stage, it was touch and go as to whether Harper would survive. She was very painful and had difficulty breathing. Poor Matt and Bianca were left wondering whether she’d pull through for a while. After a week of intensive care in hospital, however, she finally turned the corner and was able to go home. A few days later, we had to perform surgery to remove a lot of badly affected skin under her throat.  This has all gone very well and Harper came in today to have her sutures removed. Bianca reports that she’s back to her normal happy, bouncy, delightful self, much to everyone’s relief!

Most suspected spider bites turn out to be a false alarm, as mentioned.  However, Harper’s case demonstrates that it does happen and can be an extremely unpleasant condition. What are the telltale signs for owners to watch out for?

  • An intense local reaction
    • The skin tends to be reddened and painful over an area of a few centimetres to start with
  • Pain
    • Red-backs, White-tips and other spiders inject venom through the skin and cause a very painful reaction
    • Rubbing, pawing and scratching at the affected area are generally the first signs of a problem
  • Persistence and Spread of the problem
    • Plant reactions, mosquito bites and allergies can cause  a significant problem for pets but these tend to settle down over a period of time
    • Spider bites cause local cell breakdown and tend to get worse over a few days (or longer)
    • Reddened, oozing, painful ulcerated skin lesions are often the result

What do we do to treat spider bites?

  • Pain relief
    • As mentioned, spider bites are very painful and can make pets feel quite unwell
    • In severe cases, such as Harper, pain relief by an intravenous drip is required
  • Infection control
    • In some cases, the localised cell death caused by the venom will lead to a cellulitis and eventually to an abscess forming
    • This is exactly what happened with Harper. Once the infection organised into an abscess, we were able to provide drainage and this made a huge improvement in her condition.
  • Systemic support
    • Harper was far too unwell to be able to eat or drink and so providing fluids and electrolytes via an intravenous drip was the only way to keep her alive.
    • A lot of nursing care was essential to prevent pressure sores and to avoid ongoing damage to the skin

Is there anything we can do to prevent spider bites?

  • Keep your garden as tidy as possible!
    • Piles of rubbish tend to be the favoured spot for red-back spiders, particularly
    • They also love to hang out under rocks or any other shelter
    • If you are moving things around, make sure your pets aren’t there to help and avoid having them investigate what comes out from under that rock!
  • Early intervention
    • If you think your pet has been bitten by a spider, come in sooner rather than later.
    • Although we can’t help prevent the progression of the disease, we can start your pet on treatment to support them through this nasty condition

The great news is that, as mentioned, genuine spider bites are uncommon. Although Harper was one of the unlucky ones, she managed to pull through (with a little help from his friends here). The good news is that we don’t anticipate any ongoing problems from this incident.

If you happen to see your pet playing with a spider or feel that they are displaying any of the signs above, please don’t hesitate to give our lovely receptionists a call on 8522 3500.


Picture of Anne Crouch

Anne Crouch

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