UF veterinary emergency team saves cat with coral snake bite

Dr. Ashley Allen and  intern

Dr. Rachel Davy, an emergency and critical care resident at UF, and Dr. Ashley Allen, a clinical lecturer with the emergency and critical care service, are shown at the UF Small Animal Hospital with Sunny during the cat’s recuperation from a coral snake bite. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Carsten Bandt)

By Sarah Carey

On a Sunday in January, a cat named Sundari was bitten by a coral snake, then later experienced death at the doorstep of UF’s Pet Emergency Center in Ocala and lived to meow about it.

“It was an awful day for us,” said the cat’s owner, Salvina Aupetit of Tampa. “It’s amazing that she has fully recovered.”

According to University of Florida veterinary emergency specialists, Sundari, known as “Sunny” to her owners, literally died at UF’s Pet Emergency Treatment Services facility in Ocala on Jan. 11, immediately after Aupetit and her husband arrived at the facility following a panicked drive from their home in Tampa.

“She had stopped breathing, and her bladder had emptied,” Aupetit said. “I was certain that was it, that we were a few seconds too late.”

But when a staff member from the UF PETS clinic saw the couple with the cat in their arms and opened the door, she took Sunny and rushed her away to a treatment area. Veterinarians immediately performed CPR and were able to bring her back to life.

After five minutes of CPR, Sunny’s heart started again. Then she was stabilized and treated with anti-venom. Sunny was unable to breathe by herself, however, and the UF PETS emergency team determined that she needed immediate transport to the UF Small Animal Hospital in Gainesville, where she could receive additional support and be placed on a ventilator to help her breathing.

“We took her post haste to Gainesville, as she was unable to breathe and was paralyzed at that point from the coral snake bite,” said Dr. Carsten Bandt, co-chief of the hospital’s emergency and critical care service.

He and Dr. Marianna Pardo, a UF emergency and critical care service intern, along with a veterinary student on emergency rotation used a hand ventilator to help Sunny breathe during the trip from Ocala. Once in Gainesville, the cat was placed on a ventilator. She remained hospitalized for several more days, as she regained her strength.

“She was walking within two days of being on the ventilator, and was here for a week or so after that,” said Dr. Gareth Buckley, co-chief of the emergency and critical care service.

He said UF has the only veterinary hospital in the United States that carries coral snake anti-venom, and that even while Sunny had a reaction to it, the anti-venom combined with the intensive care and ventilation support she received in Gainesville saved her life.

Aupetit and her husband own an exotic animal sanctuary in Tampa, and saw Sunny playing with the snake. They later realized that she had been bitten. After watching her closely for a few hours and seeing Sunny’s condition worsen drastically, they began the process of trying to find her help and ended up calling UF.

Sunny’s ordeal was stressful to the couple for many reasons, not the least of which was financial uncertainty. But they took solace in knowing their cat was “in the care of people who knew what they were doing,” Aupetit said.

Although she complimented everyone on Sunny’s care team, Aupetit was especially grateful for the help and advice given them by UF’s Dr. Ashley Allen, a clinical lecturer with the emergency and clinical care service. It was Allen who took Aupetit’s initial emergency call and advised her to detour to Ocala rather than try to drive directly to Gainesville from Tampa. Allen also told the cat’s owner how to position Sunny’s head to help her breathe more easily during the trip.

“She (Allen) went the extra mile,” said Aupetit. “We didn’t know at all where to go or how to react in this type of situation. We were lucky to find the people at steps along the way to guide us to the right place.”


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February 2015


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