How Dangerous Are Black Widows?

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Black widow spiders are infamous for their dangerous bites. Black widow spiders are found throughout most of North America, except for Northern Canada. They are one of two venomous spiders in the United States alongside the brown recluse spider. 

Black widow spiders are easy to identify due to their iconic all-black body with an orange or red hourglass marking on their abdomen. These markings may appear as several red spots in some black widow species, but these spots often form an hourglass shape. Black widow spiders were initially given their name after people witnessed the female black widow spiders eat the male black widow spiders after mating. However, this is not usually the case in reality and is more myth than fact.

Black widow spiders are web-building spiders who linger near their webs during the day and wait for prey to entrap themselves in their web. Typically, they only bite defensively when their web is disturbed or they feel threatened. Black widow spider bites often happen when black widow spiders are hiding in a closet, in your shoes, in the basement, or on an item that is disturbed. Unfortunately, black widow bites are dangerous, and in this article we’ll discuss just how dangerous black widow spider bites are to you and your loved ones. 

In this piece, we’ll cover the following black widow spider topics: 

  • Are Black Widows Dangerous to Humans?
  • Are Black Widows Dangerous to Any Pets?
  • Are Black Widows Poisonous?
  • Do Black Widows Pose Any Health Risk?
Reviewed By:
Ed Spicer

Ed has been working in the pest control industry for years helping 1,000's of homeowners navigate the world of insect and rodent management. He manages Pest Strategies now helping homeowners around the world!

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Table Of Contents

    Are Black Widows Dangerous to Humans? 

    In short, yes. Black widow bites can be very dangerous to humans, especially young children, the elderly, or those who are immunocompromised. However, even healthy adults can suffer from a variety of painful side effects that may require medical attention to treat. The good news is that black widow bites are rarely fatal. However, you may still need medical attention, especially if you end up having an allergic reaction to the spider venom or experiencing severe symptoms. 

    Common black widow spider bite symptoms: 

    • Redness around the bite site, which may spread to other parts of the body
    • Cramping
    • Nausea
    • Pain
    • Swelling
    • Tremors
    • Vomiting
    • Sweating

    Typically, black widow bite symptoms last around one to three days, and most people experience pain right away after being bitten. If you aren’t sure what kind of spider you were bitten by, it’s recommended that you have a medical professional check out the spider bite. Spider bites usually look like other bug bites and can be challenging to diagnose on your own. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, are having trouble breathing or swallowing, experiencing severe pain, abdominal cramping, or a growing wound, immediately seek medical attention. 

    Long-term complications from a black widow spider bite are rare, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry and have it checked out by your medical provider. 

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    Are Black Widows Dangerous to Any Pets?  

    Unfortunately, black widow spiders are dangerous to pets because of their potent venom, which is a powerful neurotoxin. 

    If a black widow spider bites your dog or cat, they may show the following signs:

    • Severe muscle pain
    • Acting “drunk” (stumbling, disoriented)
    • Muscle Cramping
    • Tremors
    • Changes in blood pressure (typically high blood pressure)
    • Drooling
    • Diarrhea
    • Paralysis
    • Vomiting

    Without medical attention, a dog or cat can die from a black widow spider bite, so if you notice any of these symptoms or see your pet with a black widow spider, immediately consult with your veterinarian or call a pet poison helpline. Typical treatment for a black widow spider bite in pets includes antivenom, pain medications, anti-seizure medications, IV fluids, and support for other displayed symptoms. Cats and small dogs are especially at risk of severe symptoms and fatalities from black widow bites due to their smaller size. If your pet is bitten, don’t wait to see what happens. Act quickly and get them help. 

    Seek immediate medical attention if a black widow spider bites you because black widow venom is considered 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake bite.

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    Are Black Widows Poisonous? 

    A common misconception about black widow spiders is that they are poisonous, but they are actually venomous creatures. Poisonous animals, like certain species of frogs, need to be eaten for the toxin to be spread. However, venomous animals bite their victims to inject venom, like black widow spiders or rattlesnakes. 

    Unfortunately, black widow spiders are also one of the most venomous spider species in North America. They can be found almost everywhere, except for Northern Canada, where it’s too cold for them to live. This makes it challenging to avoid black widow spiders whether you live in a desert, forest, or mountain area and makes it critical that you know what black widows look like and how to prevent them from entering your home. Keeping up with smart pest control measures, such as regular landscaping, home repairs, and keeping other pest infestations from developing, are crucial to preventing black widows and other species of spiders from invading your home. To protect yourself from black widow spider bites, always wear gloves and long sleeves when working outside, dusting your basement, or going into your shed. 

    Do Black Widows Pose Any Health Risk? 

    Yes, black widows pose a health risk to humans, especially young children. Fatalities are rare, but painful symptoms can arise, which is why medical attention is advised. Typically, a medical professional will diagnose your spider bite through a physical examination of the bite and questions about the spider you were bitten by. Then, your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you. If you are struggling to breathe, experiencing high blood pressure, or are pregnant, they may want to use antivenom to counteract the black widow spider venom. However, this will not be necessary in most cases, and you may simply be prescribed medicine to relieve pain and advised to place an ice pack on the bite site. 

    Regardless, it’s recommended that you seek immediate medical attention if a black widow spider bites you because black widow venom is considered 15 times stronger than a rattlesnake bite. Fortunately, a black widow spider cannot inject as much venom at one time, but it is still a highly dangerous venom that can be fatal in some cases. If you or a loved one are bitten, watch for signs of an allergic reaction, such as trouble breathing or swallowing, because some people are allergic to spider venom and may go into anaphylaxis. 

    Final Thoughts

    In conclusion, black widow spiders are dangerous spiders with venomous bites that often require medical attention. While most humans will recover from their black widow bite, it’s strongly suggested that you seek medical attention if you are experiencing severe symptoms. If a young child or your pet is bitten, immediately take them to urgent care or an animal hospital because most fatalities from black widow spider bites are in young children or pets. 

    If you notice black widows on your property, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local exterminator to deal with the problem immediately. A professional will know the best steps to take to get rid of the black widows on your property as fast as possible so that you and your family are safe from harm. 

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