The scent of a cat is a natural deterrent to rattlesnakes. When a cat and rattlesnake do cross paths, the cat’s lightning fast skills will lead to the death of the rattle snake. Occasionally, however, a young cat may be bitten as happened recently on the ranch.
We arrived home on a Friday evening to be welcomed by the litter of four month old kittens. One face of a kitten was horribly swollen. The kitten was tame enough we could catch it for a closer examination. We found fang bites above the bridge of the nose, and, more worrisome, was the fang mark that pierced the kitten’s left eyeball. I had often witnessed cats overcoming snake bites while growing up and knew they had a resistance to the venom. I had never seen one with this type of wound though.
According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, cats are less sensitive to pit viper venom than are dogs, goats, horses, rabbits, or pigs.
With the poor economy and an abundance of healthy kittens, going to the vet was not an option on a Friday evening. We kept him in the house and hoped for the best. I fed him a treat of moist cat food rather than the usual dry cat food and provided plenty of fresh water. He was content to curl up on the couch and fell asleep soon after he had a full stomach.
The next morning, the swelling was down considerably. The young kitten was alert and had a great appetite for a second can of cat food. While we sat down to watch the news, the kitten jumped up in my lap and purred with contentment. Seeing such an improvement led us to believe the kitten would be okay with some rest and general pampering. The eye had a cloudy appearance, but otherwise, there was no bleeding or drainage. The only change in the kitten seemed to be that he was a bit jumpy when a paper rattled.
We continued our schedule as normal and went back to the other end of our commute for the work week. When we arrived back at the ranch the following Friday, the kitten met us at the door. His face showed no signs of the rattlesnake bite. I picked him up for a closer look and saw the majority of the cloudiness had disappeared. The kitten had already adapted itself to using its good eye and seemed in perfect health.
By the end of the second week, the cloudiness had cleared completely and the kitten had full vision in both eyes. There was no sign that he had ever been on the receiving end of a rattle snake bite. Though we often see rattlesnakes along the road around the ranch, we seldom come across any in our yard. The cats are great for keeping them away.
If circumstance had been different, we would have taken the kitten to the vet for supportive care. Anti-venom is seldom necessary for cats and kittens but they can be made more comfortable with medications and medical support.
I was able to witness full circle that the kitten had learned caution before the end of summer. In late August, we came across the litter of kittens warily circling a rattlesnake. The snake was curled up and buzzing loudly. All six of the kittens remained out of striking distance but watched the snake patiently. While we were watching, we witnessed the snake-bit kitten charge the rattling snake from behind. The snake had no idea that the kitten had its revenge as the kitten killed the rattlesnake.
Merck Vet Manual: Snake Bite
Natural Paws: Snake Bite