Missy's eyes are made for detecting prey and tiny things that dart about, like mice, bugs and lizards such as skinks. They're enticing prey for her, and it's little wonder she'll munch on her quarry if she doesn't give it in offering to you. Some of her victims are safe menu options, while others are best left alone.
If Missy enjoys soaking up the afternoon sun, she may encounter blue-tailed skinks, depending on where home is. Also known as five-lined skinks, these reptiles cover a lot of ground, ranging from New York south to Florida and west to Wisconsin, Missouri and parts of Michigan, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas. They prefer moist woods, living among logs, rock piles and stumps. Reaching 8 inches in length, these guys are named for their marking. They wear five light-colored stripes from snout to tail and, as juveniles, sport bright blue tails, which dull with age.
Missy and Skinks
Raccoon, foxes, snakes and other predators dine on this reptile just fine to no apparent ill effect. However, there is disagreement about whether this fellow is toxic to cats. Some cats eat blue-tailed skinks with no problems, while others become dangerously ill. If Missy gets her paws on a blue-tailed skink, chances are the critter's tail will break off -- it's the reptile's defense mechanism. Even after disconnecting, the tail will continue to twitch, distracting Missy and allowing the skink to run away. If that fails, the skink may try biting Missy.
Skink for a Snack
If Missy suffers from a skink bite, she'll likely be okay because skinks have very small teeth that can hardly break a cat's skin. As well, skinks don't have venom, as snakes do. Should she decide a skink, or his tail, is a tasty morsel, she may get very sick. Though skinks are not really toxic, cats can get sick from eating the critters. Skinks are among the reptiles potentially carrying dangerous parasites that end up inside Missy's bile duct, causing inflammation. The bile duct becomes blocked, causing toxins to accumulate in the liver. The Merck Manual refers to it as lizard poisoning syndrome, with symptoms including loss of appetite, jaundice, diarrhea and vomiting. Veterinary care is critical for the cat who has lunched on an infected slink. Treatment sometimes requires surgery.
Feline Vestibular Syndrome
Cat owners have reported other symptoms from cats eating blue-tailed skinks, including head tilting, falling, leaning and strange eye movement. Known as feline vestibular syndrome, it's not clear what can cause such problems in Missy, though sometimes ear infections and tumors can trigger such events. Usually the cause of feline vestibular syndrome is idiopathic, or unknown, and there's no proven link between blue-tailed skinks and vestibular disease. If Missy has symptoms of vestibular syndrome, the vet will check for ear infections and other potential causes to explain the condition. However, there's enough anecdotal evidence linking the syndrome to cats who've dined on blue-tailed skinks, so if Missy chews on a skink and has symptoms of the syndrome, inform your vet.
Don't Eat the Skink
Though no scientific evidence states definitively that blue-tailed skinks are toxic to cats, it's best to discourage Missy from snacking on these critters. There's no way to know if a skink has dangerous parasites, which can be life-threatening if left untreated, though a stool sample can confirm their presence in Missy. If you catch her doing more than playing patty-paw with a skink, keep a close eye on her and watch for signs that ingested a skink with parasites. Keep an eye on her balance, too. If she shows signs of illness or vestibular disease, she should see the vet.
- Lemon Bay Conservancy: The Mysterious Blue-Tailed Skink
- WSVN 7 News: Protecting Your Pet: Cats and Deadly Lizards
- Study of Northern Virginia Ecology: Five-Lined Skink
- BioKIDS: Five-Lined Skink
- Lizards: A Natural History of Some Uncommon Creatures - Extraordinary Chameleons, Iguanas, Geckos, and More; David Badger
- Cat Health: Vestibular Disease
- The Merck Veterinary Manual: Flukes in Small Animals
- Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images