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What caused a chemical burn on my cat’s tongue?

By Joan Morris • Aug 9, 2018 at 12:00 PM

Q: My daughter left for the week on July 1st and I left on July 4th, coming home later in the day on July 7th. I felt the adult cats would be fine on their own for a few days with plenty of dry food and water in the house where they are safe.

Everyone looked fine and healthy when I left, but my daughter’s cat, Skweeks, had a severely injured tongue when I returned, drooling everywhere, including some blood.

She would not eat or drink. I took her to an emergency pet hospital, and the vet said it appeared that she had a chemical burn on her tongue, which was bad enough to consider having a feeding tube put down her throat until the tongue healed.

Another option could have been a virus, although she is an extremely healthy cat, and none of the other cats had this issue.

Could this have been a reaction to something she caught, such as a coral-bellied snake, before I left? We have had a number of dead or dying mice in the house and yard — undoubtedly the work of Skweeks.

All her blood work came back normal, so no poisoning at all. Do you, or your readers, have any idea what could have caused this? Have you heard of anything like this before?

A: Poor Skweeks. I hope she’s doing much better by now.

It would seem unlikely that Skweeks tangling with a coral-bellied ring-necked snake would have caused the injury. The snakes are considered only mildly venomous. They have two saberlike fangs in the back of their mouths, but the teeth are solid.

Unlike a viper, which injects its venom through hollow fangs, the ring-necked snake uses the fangs as a way to channel its venom from a modified salivary gland. Essentially, the venom coats the teeth and then transfers to the prey when bitten, although it often takes a lot of biting to achieve the desired effect.

The venom paralyzes the prey so the snake can swallow it whole. As the snake is pretty small, its victims are likewise small. Skweeks would have had to really work at getting bitten on the tongue.

The snake also excretes a very smelly musk when handled, and so it’s possible that might have irritated Skweeks’ tongue. In either case, she probably would have shown symptoms before you left.

It’s more likely she got hold of something in the house, such as bleach or another cleaning agent. She might have licked the container or, if the floors had recently been cleaned, she might have walked through some residue and then licked her feet.

While cats are less likely than dogs to ingest substances that are unhealthy for them, they do get into trouble when they get something on their feet or fur, and then lick it off in a cleaning frenzy.

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