Coral Snakebite Poisoning (Elapid Envenomation) in Cats

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Last updated on
4 min read

Key takeaways

Coral snake bite poisoning occurs when a coral snake bites, and delivers venom, into a cat. 

  • Coral snakes are part of the Elapidae family, and are found in the southeastern United States and Australia
  • Species within this family include coral snakes, taipans, black snakes, brown snakes, and tiger snakes.
  • Symptoms of coral snake bite poisoning may be delayed, and include uncoordinated movement,  difficulty breathing, weakness, excessive drooling, and behavior changes
  • Emergency medical attention is required whenever a bite is witnessed, suspected, or symptoms present themselves
  • Antivenom is the most effective treatment, however it is not widely available
  • In the absence of antivenom, treatment focuses on supportive care, including fluid therapy, anti-seizure medication, and mechanical ventilation support
  • With prompt medical attention, the prognosis is usually good
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A closer look: Coral Snakebite Poisoning (Elapid Envenomation) in Cats

Although not all coral snake bites deliver venom, coral snake envenomation is serious, as it may result in respiratory paralysis. Emergency medical attention is always indicated if envenomation is suspected, or if a cat presents with symptoms.

It is important to seek proper veterinary treatment immediately. Home remedies such as ice, cold or warm packs, suction, or tourniquets may be more detrimental than beneficial to a cat’s health.

Risk factors

Coral snakes are reclusive. Incidences of coral snakebite are uncommon, and indoor cats are at the lowest risk of encountering a wild snake of any kind. Cats living outside the geographical areas where elapid snakes are present are not at risk.

The severity of symptoms varies depending on the amount of venom delivered, the size of the cat, the location of the bite, and the species of snake. Symptoms of elapid envenomation may be delayed for up to 48 hours. Receiving treatment prior to developing symptoms has the best prognosis.

A cat may limp or excessively groom a bite if it is painful. Careful observation of a cat’s behavior may make the bite wounds easier to locate.

Possible causes

Coral snakes live throughout the southeastern US, including North Carolina, Louisiana, and Florida. Other species of elapid snakes are found in Australia. Elapid snake species include:

  • Coral snakes (Southern United States)
  • Black snakes (Australia)
  • Brown snakes (Australia)
  • Taipans (Australia)
  • Tiger snakes (Australia)

Main symptoms

Elapidae bites are often hard to find since they do not swell and are not always painful.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnostics include:

  • A physical examination
  • Bloodwork
  • Shaving the area of a suspected bite to identify the bite wound

Steps to Recovery

While antivenom is the most effective treatment, it is not widely available in the US. Treatment in these cases primarily focuses on supportive care, including:

  • Mechanical ventilation
  • Anti-seizure medications
  • IV fluids

With prompt intensive care, prognosis for a bitten cat is guarded to good, depending on the amount of venom delivered.

A cat recovering from coral snake toxicosis may be required to remain in-hospital for several days to ensure full recovery. Since the venom damages muscle receptors, full recovery with complete resolution of symptoms can take several months, as the body needs to reconstruct the damaged receptors.


Coral snake bites are prevented by enforcing an indoor lifestyle for pet cats. Alternatively, allowing outdoor access while on leash or in a contained area helps avoid wildlife encounters. This toxicosis is not contagious, although other animals and humans may also become envenomated if they encounter a coral snake.

Is Coral Snakebite Poisoning (Elapid Envenomation) in Cats common?

Coral snake bites are uncommon in cats.

Typical Treatment

  • Ventilation and oxygen support
  • Anticonvulsant medication
  • Fluid therapy
  • Antivenom


Karla Smith DVM; Philip R Judge BVSc MVS PG Cert Vet Stud MACVSc (Vet. Emerg. And Critical Care; Medicine of Dogs) - Writing for VetEducation
Sharon M. Gwaltney-Brant , DVM, PhD, DABVT, DABT - Writing for Merck Veterinary Manual
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM, ELS - Writing for dvm360®
Lyndi L. Gilliam, DVM; Jill Brunker DVM - Writing for Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice

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