Brown Recluse Spider Bite Poisoning (Loxoscelism) in Dogs

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Key takeaways

The brown recluse spider (Loxosceles reclusa), is commonly found in the south central and southwestern United States. 

  • Envenomation by a brown recluse spider is also known as loxoscelism
  • The initial bite is minimally painful, and it can take hours to days for further symptoms to develop
  • Initial symptoms include pain, swelling and bruising around the bite area and may progress to tissue death in the skin resulting in an ulcerated wound
  • Rare cases cause destruction of the red blood cells and kidney damage
  • Diagnosis is often presumptive depending on presentation and progression of skin lesions
  • Treatment involves symptomatic management with fluid therapy, pain relief, antibiotics, and anti inflammatories
  • Antivenin for loxoscelism is not currently available in most countries
  • Wound healing is prolonged in many cases but prognosis for recovery is good
  • Loxoscelism is fatal in rare cases
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A closer look: Brown Recluse Spider Bite Poisoning (Loxoscelism) in Dogs


A brown recluse spider can be identified by the violin shape on its back, as well as its six eyes, as opposed to most spiders’ eight eyes.

Many cases of loxoscelism do not cause severe tissue death and wounds, but those that do involve painful, slow-healing wounds that sometimes take several months to resolve. Rare cases result in damage to the red blood cells leading to anemia and acute kidney injury which is sometimes fatal. Dogs that have a confirmed or suspected spider bite require prompt veterinary attention. A dog with a known BRS bite requires emergency medical attention. In most cases, the prognosis for BRS bites is good.

Risk factors


Symptoms of brown recluse spider bites vary significantly, based on the amount of venom transmitted via the bite. Some cases are mild and result in no symptoms or minor skin wounds.

More severe cases result in severe, ulcerated skin wounds. In rare cases the spider bite triggers destruction of red blood cells, kidney injury, and rarely, death.

Brown recluse spiders are not endemic to most areas of the US and Canada, so dogs living outside of the south central and southwestern United States are not at risk of brown recluse spider bites. Even among dogs living in endemic areas, brown recluse spider bites in dogs are rare. Brown recluse spiders prefer dark, secluded places to hide indoors such as basements or closets, and outside under logs or rocks.

Possible causes


Loxoscelism is caused by a bite from the Loxosceles species of spider. The most common example in North America is the brown recluse spider, but other Loxosceles spider species have worldwide distribution

Brown recluse spiders are non-aggressive and require close contact to bite. Most bites result from dogs lying or walking on a spider accidentally.

Main symptoms


Symptoms of loxoscelism can be directly related to the skin, or in severe cases systemic illness can develop.

Symptoms on the skin at the site of the spider bite include:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • ‘Target’ lesion
  • Redness
  • Blistering
  • Bruising
  • Necrosis (blackening of the tissue)
  • Sloughing (falling off) of damaged skin resulting in an ulcerated wound

Systemic disease occurs if envenomation affects more than just the skin around the bite wound.

Testing and diagnosis


Investigation of loxoscelism is challenging as the symptoms are nonspecific, and can take hours to days to develop. Definitive diagnosis involves witnessing a spider bite and subsequent development of a skin lesion.

Diagnosis is usually presumptive and depends on a skin lesion consistent with a spider bite in a dog where BRS are known to be present in the environment.

Investigation involves:

  • Physical examination
  • Blood work
  • Urine examination
  • Spider identification (if available)

Steps to Recovery


Treatment options include:

  • Cold compresses of bite site
  • Steroids
  • Pain relief
  • Antibiotics

Supportive care may be required in severe cases and can include

  • Fluid therapy
  • Blood transfusion
  • Wound care

In cases where ulceration and/or tissue death is severe, surgical wound debridement (clearing of dead tissue) may be necessary.

Wounds from BRS bites may ulcerate, requiring intensive wound management, sometimes taking weeks, or months to heal.

Most cases do heal fully and long-term prognosis for recovery is good.

A minority of cases develop systemic signs requiring prolonged treatment of red blood cell destruction and kidney injury. A small number of these cases are fatal.

Prevention


Prevention focuses on preventing brown recluse spider bites. Strategies include:

  • Raising bedding off the floor
  • Frequent cleaning of dark, warm areas of the home and areas where pet bedding is located
  • Consulting a pest exterminator to reduce spider numbers in the house

Is Brown Recluse Spider Bite Poisoning (Loxoscelism) in Dogs common?


The true incidence of BRS bites is unknown as mild bites may not develop symptoms and, in symptomatic cases, diagnosis is often presumptive as the spider is rarely seen.

Loxoscelism is most common in regions where the BRS is endemic and in dogs which spend time in dark, quiet areas such as basements or under porches.

Typical Treatment


  • Cold compresses to reduce swelling where the bite is witnessed
  • Steroids
  • Pain relief
  • Antibiotics
  • Fluid therapy
  • Blood transfusion
  • Wound care
  • Wound debridement surgery

References


Rosalind Dalefield BVSc PhD DipABVT DipABT, Dawn Ruben DVM - Writing for Vetlexicon
Scott P. Taylor and John H. Greve - Writing for Iowa State University
Hannah Hollinger - Writing for Wag!
Michael E Peterson - Writing for Clinical Techniques in Small Animal Practice
No Author - Writing for Pet Poison Helpline®
Barri J. Morrison, DVM - Writing for PetMD

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