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The Threat of the Brown Recluse Spider

By: PetPlace Veterinarians

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One bite from a brown recluse spider will probably mean several weeks of pampering for your pet while she heals. Although the wound may appear nasty, your pet will usually recover fully, though you may want to take a trip to the veterinarian to be sure.

A brown recluse spider is a half-inch to 2 inches long. They are usually identified by a distinctive fiddle-shaped mark on their back. Although usually residing in the midwestern United States, the brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa) often travels with people as they move, hiding in boxes or other dark, secluded areas.

While not aggressive, these spiders will bite if they feel threatened. The bite itself does not cause much pain, and your pet may not even know she was bitten. After a while, a reddened area develops, with fever and nausea. The underlying tissue may die, and bleeding may occur. With or without treatment, the wound may take weeks to heal.

The best way to prevent a bite is to limit your pet's access to places where spiders may reside. This means checking dark areas, like dark basement corners or rarely used closets, for evidence that spiders are also residing in your home.

The diagnosis is based on the appearance of the skin wound and whether the brown recluse spider is present. Although the wound may heal on its own, it's better to be safe and have your pet checked out by a veterinarian. This may prevent further tissue damage and infection.

Home and Veterinary Care

At home, clean the wound with hydrogen peroxide, chlorhexidine or povidone iodine. Do not use a tourniquet; because the venom stays in the area of bite, a tourniquet is not necessary. The tourniquet may cause circulation damage.

If you see your pet acting lethargic, begin vomiting or the wound becomes larger, it is strongly recommended that you bring your pet to the veterinarian. Treatment may be necessary to reduce these symptoms.

Your veterinarian will treat the bite wound and may give your pet antibiotics to prevent infection. Surgery may be necessary to remove the skin around the affected area, if other treatments do not heal the wound. Generally, pets recover fully from these spider bites after several weeks.

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