Always treat a scorpion sting as an emergency. If you know or suspect your dog was stung, get him to an emergency clinic immediately. We recommend calling ahead, so that the staff can be prepared for your arrival. Before transporting your dog, put an ice pack on the site to reduce swelling. Restrict his movements, as activity will only make the venom spread faster. If you have a cone, go ahead and put it on him, so he doesn’t lick the wound. If you have an antihistamine, such as Benadryl, that may help, but be sure to get your vet’s advice.
SYMPTOMS OF A SCORPION STING:
The most common presentation noted by us is severe pain and neuro-exitability (meaning the nervous system is hyper-excitable). The pain levels are so outrageous that I often already hear the dog over the phone in the back ground or in the car as the owners drive in. We are not talking about a mild lameness or limping. We are referring to the levels of pain that makes you think someone is skinning your dog alive. The pain also seems to concentrate its worse effect over the spleen located in the abdomen, often resulting in owners thinking their dog ingested something that has gotten stuck. This in combination with retching and gagging due to bulbar paralysis (range of symptoms resulting from paralysis of cranial nerves 9, 10, 11 and 12) and hyper-salivation that is a direct result of the neurotoxic venom, makes people often believe there is a bone stuck in the dogs throat.
They often start with profuse salivating (drooling) that leaves the world around them covered in saliva and aside from the severe pain, they also show panting and some degree of neurological symptoms. Bulbar paralysis, as stated earlier, is commonly noted with gagging and retching often also noted at the time of presentation. Coughing and sneezing usually start a few hours later once the hyper-salivation subsides but especially the sneezing can continue for days even after the dog has made a recovery.
From a clinical evaluation setting you will also likely find hypertension (high blood pressure), pyrexia (high temperature), high glucose and high Neutrophile (a type of white blood cell) count. Either tachycardia (high heart rate) or bradycardia (low heart rate) can be observed.
Scorpion envenomations are neurotoxic in primary nature and the venom can leave your pet with tonic or clonic spasms or tremors or even complete paralysis.
Aside from type of scorpion that stung your pet, symptoms are also dependant on how much venom was injected and site of injection. Physical mass of the patient and general health can also contribute to the outcome of such an envenomation. Not all stings will result in medical treatment but those that do can have possible fatal consequences if not treated properly in a timeous manner.
GET YOUR PET TO A VET AS SOON AS POSSIBLE
If you are comfortable in identifying scorpions and you are 100% sure it was not a parabuthus spp scorpion, you would likely be safe to assume that it would not be a life threatening emergency. In instances where we are not sure what scorpion is involved or in the absence of symptoms we place the patients in observation for a few hours.
It is still best to get your pet to a veterinarian for observation and a happy and early discharge in case of a false alarm than waiting too long before getting appropriate treatment. So, rather be safe than sorry.
Treatment mainly revolves around antivenom as a direct measure to counter the venom, but this is expensive. We usually and fortunately only need a single vial. The rest of the treatment revolves around pain control and supportive treatment.
Be careful with home treatment of pain in scorpion stings. A lot of the drugs on the market like normal NSAID, morphine’s and sedatives that is commonly used in pets have been shown to aggravate the pain perception of the pet rather than subdue it. In our hospital we use a cocktail of specific pain medications that have been proven to provide relieve for these patients. Because the venom is a neurotoxin and most pain meds need a proper neurological pathway to work, most pain medications is in actual fact contra-indicated to use in your pet for pain control and will in actual fact worsen their pain. I cannot stress this enough as what you do in those first few hours can potentially make or break the situation into or against your pets survival favour.
Also be careful with oral medications and letting your dog eat and drink during the first few hours, usually the worst few hours. Due to the neurotoxic effect that results in bulbur paralysis your pet can choke on oral medications or fluids and food. This is the reason we place our patients on intravenous support and give most of our medications through the intravenous line. Only once the symptoms start subsiding do we introduce food and water and will monitor them carefully for choking until we see that they are managing well and without risk.
WILL MY PET SURVIVE?
I am reluctant to be too optimistic when it comes to any venom or poison situation with a pet, but scorpion stings are usually not the worst of what I have seen. Most of the times they will survive but your elderly or really young animals or animals with concurrent illnesses are at additional risk. And it would still be three days of hell for your pet due to the pain these envenomations cause. Some articles even claim that the pain could be enough to cause a fatal heart attack in these patients. To give your pet a fair chance get them to a vet before trying all sorts of home remedies as those first few hours do count to swing the pendulum in their favour.
Spider bites from black widow spiders and even some milder envenomations from Cape cobras can often present with similar symptoms. Malicious poisonings with organophate or carbonates are also often considered during initial presentation and kept on our differential diagnosis list. There are a few other conditions as well but the point I am trying to make is to rather get your pet to a veterinarian for observation until the all clear is given than risk wasting time with any of these conditions. They are all serious enough to warrant a trip to the veterinarian.
Longacres Animal Hospital
Tel: 022 772 0019
Cell: 079 397 0784
Fax: 086 292 9782