Lilly, the fearful Border Collie who served as the canine heroine in my life, is a bit famous for being bitten.
Lilly turned seven years old this spring and her tally includes:
- Many fly bites over three summers, leading to creepy larva under the skin
- Two rattlesnake bites to the face and one close call, in four known encounters at home
- One nasty, festering spider bite
We’ll never know what kind of spider led to the hardboiled-egg-sized lump in her neck.
It could have been a brown recluse or a “no-name” spider in our pastures at 8,200 feet above sea level in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.
I found the bite while looking for another lump I wanted our veterinarian to check during Lilly’s routine wellness exam.
I was groping around for the pea-sized lump when I found a big, fairly squishy mash.
I had bathed Lilly days earlier and brushed her that morning and feel positive I would have felt it then, so based on her behavior as the day wore on, the lump’s discovery that afternoon, and the bloody discharge my veterinarian drew out with a syringe, we’re fairly certain the spider bite happened the same day I found the lump.
Most people don’t discover spider bites on their dogs until days later when the aspirate comes out as mostly puss from a vibrant infection.
Still, after shaving a spot on Lilly’s neck and drawing out 12-15 ccs of bloody fluid, our veterinarian squirted some on a paper towel and took a whiff. “Yep, that’s pretty rank,” she said. “It’s already badly infected.”
Spider Bites in Dogs: What to Look For
Unlike snakebites, with clear fang marks and extreme, rapid swelling in a matter of minutes, spider bites tend to show up with these symptoms:
- Swelling and itching within 1-2 hours of a spider bite
- Noticeable bruising around the spider bite lump
- A squishy outer lump with a firm spider bite center
- Possible muscle pain, cramping that makes dogs reluctant to stand up or move
- Possible drooling
Dogs tend to process spider bites a bit better than cats, who can even develop paralysis from black widow spider bites.
Some bites, including those from poisonous brown recluse spiders, can become quite swollen, red, and tender to the touch.
They can even begin sloughing dead tissue, revealing a nasty open wound that can take a long time to heal.
Spider Bite Treatment for Dogs
We sprung into action, giving Lilly shots of both powerful antibiotics and powerful steroids. Fair warning, the injection hurt like crazy … causing Lilly to fling herself to the floor screaming and writhing. So, if your dog ever needs an injection like this, hold on tight.
I had pre-dosed Lilly with Benadryl in anticipation of vaccines to which she has less-than-ideal reactions, so it didn’t hurt that she already had an antihistamine in her system before we arrived at the veterinary hospital.
We went home with both antibiotics and steroids to give her twice a day, with recheck veterinary appointments every few days.
Surgery would be needed if the:
- Spider bite lump grew
- Spider bite lump didn’t shrink fast enough
- The dog developed any other complications such as fever, trouble breathing, tremors or seizures, extreme lethargy
In those cases, veterinarians want to do surgery to cut out the necrotic (dying) tissue and put in drains to get infected fluids out of the body.
The primary risk is that the infection might go septic (into the bloodstream). This can be deadly in a matter of hours.
I assume the bite being so close to big arteries in Lilly’s neck put her at greater risk for sepsis and organ shutdown.
Spider Bite Recovery for Dogs
Other than showing more generalized fears the first few days and running a low-grade temperature, Lilly seemed mostly normal, but tired, during her spider bite recovery. We did, however, keep her quiet in the house:
- Only going outside to potty
- Not going on long (or any) walks
- Not playing or roughhousing with us or our other dog
Lilly needed several follow-up appointments so that our veterinarian could check the spider bite lump. We kept Lilly on both steroids and antibiotics for several days past when the lump felt completely gone. Then, we finished the prescribed antibiotics and carefully tapered her off the steroids over about a week.
Spider Bite Dog Emergency
If you find a sudden, suspicious lump on your dog, consider it a veterinary emergency and seek diagnosis and treatment immediately.
Written by Roxanne Hawn, Champion of My Heart
Roxanne Hawn is a freelance writer and award-winning blogger. Roxanne’s work has been published in many national outlets, including The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, The Bark, HealthyPet, Bankrate.com, WebMD and many more.
Her blog Champion of My Heart is a real-time memoir of life with a fearful Border Collie.
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