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Brown snake envenomation in cats: are two antivenom doses better than one?

Pursue your passion for animals and science - help cats survive after brown snake poisoning.

Cat hiding out in grass

Snake bite poisoning is a common emergency seen in cats at our veterinary hospital and at veterinary clinics in many parts of Australia. 

Brown snakes (Pseudonaja spp.) are the most common snake causing poisoning in Australian dogs and cats. The snake venom causes severe nervous system damage leading to progressive paralysis. In addition, snake venom causes a blood clotting disorder leading to spontaneous bleeding or excessive bleeding from minor wounds. 

Intravenous administration of brown snake antivenom is the mainstay of treatment for brown snake envenomation. The survival rate of cats and dogs treated with antivenom is significantly higher than those not treated, but severely affected animals still have a high risk of death.

A major unanswered question is how to judge the number of doses of antivenom to administer to an animal. This is important to know since antivenom is expensive, and pet owners’ decisions on what treatment to allow for their animals are best informed by both financial and outcome data.

Over the summer of 2018-2019 we developed a scoring system to assess snake bitten cats as soon as they were admitted to the hospital. Those cats with a score ≥7 turned out to have a 50% probability of dying despite supportive care and one dose of antivenom, which was the standard treatment at that time. This scoring system was developed by analysing a relatively small number of cats.

To follow up, we collected data on additional cats over the summer of 2019-2020. This data needs to be thoroughly analysed, but preliminary analysis supports the conclusion that cats with a score of ≥7 have a 50% probability of dying despite standard treatment.


Tagged in Honours projects - Animal science, Honours in Animal Science subtheme - Animal and veterinary bioscience, Honours in Animal Science subtheme - Companion animal health, Honours projects - Anthony Nicholson, Honours projects - Anne Peaston

Competition: Young Scientist of the Year

Could you be the University of Adelaide Young Scientist of the Year?

Australian high school students are invited to submit a short video about one of Australia’s big science challenges.

Video competition