"This is not fun".
So yes, Ming was bitten by a snake -- that is a picture of him wearing the dreaded "cone of shame". I wanted to share our experience with you because I know many of you belong to cats too, and might find some of it useful.
Ming was bitten a few days ago; the awful thing is I didn't know exactly when it happened. I could only base it on the condition of the wound when I finally did realise something was amiss. He had been bitten just beneath his lower jaw, and by the time I examined it, there was already pus forming, which suggested the bite had occurred a day or so before, and had gotten contaminated.
Ming has very thick fur, especially round the neck and throat where it forms a ruff, and it almost entirely concealed the wound -- hence the importance of regular grooming! The infected area was almost two inches long and an inch wide, and the flesh was largely red and encrusted with dried blood. The flesh surrounding the pus, however, was almost black, which I figured was dead. The wound was also hard and hot, sure signs that it needed prompt medical attention.
What I did next was to clean the wound with chlorhexidine, an antiseptic which I love. It is a bright blue liquid and comes in large, economical bottles. Chlorhexidine is more effective in killing bacteria than some other disinfectants like iodine, and also has residual effects for some hours after use. Don't use hydrogen peroxide, unless you first dilute it with water (1:5 ratio), and even then, use it only once -- hydrogen peroxide can damage tissue.
Admittedly, I was a little hesitant about using chlorhexidine on a cat, but I felt the need outweighed any risks, and anyway, the vet later assured me that I did do the right thing (I could not get a vet's appointment till the following afternoon). On cleaning the wound as best I could, I discerned one puncture wound clearly, just beneath the gumline, which suggested an attack from below.
Now, through all this you may be wondering how Ming was behaving. Was he listless, drooling, or vomiting, for example? Did he have muscle weakness or laboured breathing? Well actually, no, not at all. He was acting perfectly normal and fine, which was mainly why we hadn't thought anything was wrong with him. He was his usual mellow, nonchalant self, his appetite was as good as ever, and one would never have guessed he had a bloody gaping thing on his chin.
But of course, you may already know that cats do tend to instinctively hide the fact that they're in pain, so it's good to stay alert to subtler signs of trouble -- like quiet, withdrawn behaviour; refusing to sleep or lie down; and hiding more than usual -- as well as the more obvious signs of hissing, panting, altered gait, etc.
At the vet's, the injured area was shaved, which was when we got a clearer picture of the kind of angle and action that could have resulted in the wound -- the vet then said it was likely a snake. Thank the Lord that whatever snake it had been was not venomous, for we do have a fairly large variety here, including cobras and coral snakes; Ming did still need to be treated for the infection, and get a shot of antibiotics too. The whole experience spurred me to find out more on what to do if one's cat has been bitten by a venomous snake.
What I did already know was that a venomous snake bite usually appears as two small punctures in the skin. Most snake bites in cats are on the head and legs; body bites from poisonous snakes are usually lethal. The symptoms include intense pain, weakness, swelling, shortness of breath, vomiting, and finally paralysis.
If your cat has been bitten, get him or her to the vet as soon as possible. Don't think to put it off till Monday if it's the weekend or a public holiday -- there are 24-hour clinics around; have a list of them handy. Bite and claw wounds especially need medical attention because of infection, and the potential of it spreading into the bloodstream. Abscesses -- or pus that has collected in a cavity from dead body tissue -- will need antibiotics, and, sometimes, surgical draining. Keep your cat still by wrapping it in a blanket, as movement and excitement increases the movement of the venom in the bloodstream toward the heart.
I found this useful information on treating snake bites at DoctorDog.com:
First identify the snake and look at the bite. If the snake is nonpoisonous, cleanse and dress the wound. If it appears that the cat has been bitten by a poisonous snake and if you are within 30 minutes of a veterinary hospital, transport at once.
If unable to get help within 30 minutes, follow these steps:
1. Keep the cat quiet. Venom spreads rapidly if the cat is active. Excitement, exercise, struggling -- all these increase the rate of absorption.
2. If the bite is on the leg, apply a constricting bandage (handkerchief or strip of cloth) between the bite and the cat's heart. You should be able to get a finger beneath the bandage; loosen the bandage for five minutes every hour (italics and asterisk mine)*.
There is more valuable information on treating wounds and handling an injured cat here and here.
* For pete's sake, take my word on this -- be sure to loosen that bandage regularly. Likewise, a tourniquet, used to control bleeding from an artery, must be loosened for a few minutes every half an hour. Trust me, it's bad enough if you're already dealing with a snake bite -- you do not want to also see your cat with a paw that's triple its usual size, nor deal with gangrene and amputation.