Dealing with our first snake bite on a horse…

Horse with recent snake bite

Today hasn’t gone as planned.

This three year old mare, Hope, is still eating, drinking and breathing normally although she has clearly been bitten by a snake. It looks like I am going to have hands on experience with something I have only read about.

My first surprise is that she seems more comfortable than I would have imagined, which is a good thing because keeping her calm is not going to be an issue. But it is still early. More swelling should happen in the next 24 hours.

Aside from being in Texas I would not have thought that she is in a very high risk area. She is near the barn in a high traffic area. There are not rocks or logs or other typical hiding places. The snake had to have chosen to enter the high traffic area where the horses and cattle are. There is no feed stored near this area and the horses clean up what is fed.

When I visited with the vets I learned a couple of interesting things. One lady was telling me that she had a kennel with 20 dogs boarded there and the back was open for air…and a snake entered. What happened to these things trying to avoid contact if possible?

I also learned that anti-venom isn’t widely used.

My first clue about this was on a trip with my kids to a nature preserve where they were speaking about snakes. I asked about snake bites, on humans, and was told that most often the person is not given anti-venom but is observed and the symptoms are treated.

I have talked with several vets today and they don’t even have the anti-venom available. The closest vet assured me that they typically treat five horses a week…although they treated five this last weekend…not a good sign. I wish it was an option because I would spend the extra just to be safe but three vets later I guess not.

All the vets agree that we are treating the swelling and to prevent infection. They don’t exactly agree on doses and medications…interesting.

Hope is generally good with shots. She had blood drawn for her coggins test this spring as well as her shots and was fine. Not so fine AFTER the snake bite. I’m just guessing that her recent encounter with the snake has her seriously jumpy about anything that feels prickly. Just a guess.

‘Hope’fully we will see major improvement with the treatments. I will keep you posted. Prayers are appreciated.

There are many interesting articles online about snake bites, like this one. If you have one to share…please do.

Swelling on horses face after snake bite

High traffic area with no hiding places for snakes

High traffic area with no hiding places for snakes

P.S.- for added fun the air conditioning went bye-bye in our van on the trip to the vets…over 90 degrees here in Texas…the kids are learning how the ‘good old days’ prior to air-conditioning were…

82 Comments

  1. Mara Laws on September 12, 2017 at 9:42 am

    Hello—Would SO appreciate an update on how the healing outcome. Our dear old gelding was bit in the face by a rattlesnake a week ago. Vet was onit the next day. We have been diligent with all therapies including anti-venom, tetanus, antibiotics & steroids. Two days ago the loose parchment of skin covering the ‘blisters’ was removed leaving horrific open wounds to his cheek and down the side of his face to chin. Going forward hoping to find healing aids—(gels-cremes & topicals are out for now as the draining is still active)—Using a saline/betadine wash & spraying Granulex each am. Thank you-hope your horses healing was complete.

    • Stacy Westfall on September 14, 2017 at 10:26 am

      Yikes! Our mare was possible bitten by a copperhead. She did recover. She didn’t have the open wounds you are describing which makes me think it was different snakes…or something. With our mare the swelling gradually went down. Her nose is slightly crooked if you look straight on but nothing else. I hope your guy heals up well and quickly!

  2. […] year on June 16 we were dealing with our first snake bit horse. You may remember the blog, complete with photos, documenting the whole process. As Hope, the horse that was bitten, was hanging her head out of the […]

  3. Lou Ann Taylor on June 23, 2014 at 4:13 pm

    My horse got stung by a wasp on her face that really had a lot of swelling. Vet gave her Banamine just to ensure her airways were good. Can’t even imagine a snake bite!! Best wishes and good thoughts all coming your way!!

  4. Elsie Woodward on June 17, 2014 at 12:43 pm

    Might have missed it in all of the comments but has no one recommended DMSO? It works. Have used it successfully on copperhead bites on three different dogs. It will certainly help the swelling.

  5. Sallye on June 17, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Stacy, our Scottie was bitten in the same area as your horse about a month ago. She swelled up under the jaw and along her neck line. Took her to the Vet, and he gave meds for infection and swelling. Vet told us that since there is only one tooth mark in the nose more than likely was not a rattler. Vet said that anything venomous would have seen more swelling and two bite marks. The fact that our girl had been given snake shot helped. Saw a marked improvement within 48 hours of starting meds. Hope this helps.

  6. Brittany on June 17, 2014 at 11:36 am

    In the hill country, new braunsfels, canyon lake etc they reccomend rattle snake vaccines. May be worth checking into

  7. Teresa Priester on June 17, 2014 at 10:48 am

    While living in Southern Idaho, we had horses and riders that would get bit by snakes that would climb up in the trees and tall sage brush, trying to get away from the sun. I see you have some trees in your paddock, would keep an eye out in them for the creepy crawly critters.

    • Stacy on June 17, 2014 at 4:12 pm

      Aaaaaaaahhhhhhh! You’re going to give me nightmares!

      • Peggy Walton on June 17, 2014 at 10:45 pm

        I had a golden retriever bit on the top of his head by a rattlesnake. Because it wasn’t a vascular area he just had major swelling of his head and neck which was treated by lasix and steroids. Touch and go for awhile. It depends on where the bite is- in vascular areas there may be sloughing of tissues which will make healing more difficult. Good thing you got it figured out as quickly as you did! Hope your sweet guy heals well!

  8. Patricia Nichols Coins on June 17, 2014 at 10:44 am

    Stacy, A few years ago my Arabian mare was bitten by a copperhead under her jowl on the bone. It took over a year to get it healed up. In the process she lost her back teeth from the bone decay. She did grow new bone and healed up without a disfigurement. But for a very long time it was touch and go. I pray that your mare will be better soon. I would think a vet would have placed a tube in the noise to prevent the air way being stopped up from the swelling. Around here the vet will do that with a snake bite. Prayers for you all and please stay safe.

  9. Sherri VanTassel on June 17, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Prayers sent your way and thanks for sharing the information. I assumed that anti-venom was standard practice….

  10. Deb Pierson on June 17, 2014 at 3:22 am

    Guess the snake didn’t know he wasn’t following his natural instincts. Lol. seriously though I hope the horse recovers and does well.

  11. Annie Gass on June 17, 2014 at 2:51 am

    DO NOT TRY AVERSION TRAINING WITH YOUR HORSE!!!!!!! An animal weighing 1000+ pounds that panics can and will seriously injure or kill itself and/or others. This panic could occur during training just as easily as afterward. I would prefer my horse to stand and be bitten rather than wheel away and go over the side of the cliff! Snakebite I can treat – a 300-ft. fall onto jumbled rock I can’t!

    Admittedly, it works well with dogs, including my own, and I DO recommend it for them, and for cats, too! Also, consider using photos and recorded sound to educate yourself AND YOUR CHILDREN!!!! And stay alert! All the venomous snakes in the U.S. except the coral snake have very good camouflage and often lie on or near trails which may bring prey to them. A rattlesnake cannot be depended on to warn before striking!

  12. Carmelita on June 17, 2014 at 2:41 am

    Our prayers are with you & I will put in a prayer request 2morrow nite @ our Tuesday evening services… Pray she is ok! Please keep us posted… Be blessed…

  13. Heather Taft on June 17, 2014 at 1:33 am

    my mare was bitten as a yearling/2yr old. It was kind of under the cheek. Our horses run out in a pasture, so it wasn’t shocking. We called the vet as soon as we could and followed his directions. We lanced the wound, drained it, flushed it with iodine and she got a shot of antibiotic/anti-inflammatory. We drained and flushed it for several days. It was pretty hard to deal with her, but she came out of it fine and is a wonderful all around horse now. She will spook at a snake but won’t panic, remarkably.

  14. Marie on June 17, 2014 at 12:36 am

    Hi Stacy, without the risk of sounding like a crack pot , you could try using injectable vitamin C. It’s good at ridding the body of toxins and the type of toxin is immaterial. To cut a long story short, I’ve used it extensively in lots of treatments over the past few years when I found out about it, with great results. You can give it in massive doses without risk of poisoning as it is water soluble and excess with be passed out of the body. You could try 1 X 20 mil or cc ( not sure of US measurement) three times a day for a few days until the swelling subsides then reduce the number of injections but keep up the treatment for at least a couple of weeks until the toxins are gone. Hope that helps

    • Stacy on June 17, 2014 at 8:24 am

      Several people have mentioned this, I will have to look at adding it to my first-aid kit.

    • Janette on June 17, 2014 at 6:46 pm

      Yes, vitamin C injectable is good to have in your first aid kit. A vet friend of mine (who is not really open to alternative medicine) has seen vitamin C help dogs survive some deadly Australian snake bites.
      Best wishes, I hope your mare is ok.

  15. Dana Oyler on June 17, 2014 at 12:34 am

    Prayers throughout the night for Hope. Snakes are a big concern here in the central San Joaquin Valley of California. Our foothills are rattlesnake haven. Have dealt with horses and cattle being bitten. Scary situation and I did a lot of praying. It helped every time.

  16. Joann Nichols Laughlin on June 17, 2014 at 12:21 am

    I haven’t had a horse bitten but my dog Lady, was bitten by a copperhead. Had the snake not gotten her, which she saw before I did, It would have bitten me. The vet gave her a shot of Benedryl and a steroid shot and told me to watch her for 2-3 days for any other side effects. Her paw was really sore and it was hard for her to walk but after a few days, she was fine!
    When you say there are no places for the snakes to hide, well, I can see plenty. Look at the trees. Most snakes will climb, and what better time of year than when there is an abundant food source, baby birds! They are hatching now and the snakes know it. So instead of looking down, try looking up. Only because I once had a snake fall out of a tree right in front of me!

  17. danceswithwools on June 16, 2014 at 11:55 pm

    At over $5000/vial, it’s no wonder it’s rarely used. In 25 years of practicing veterinary medicine, we’ve had ONE client choose this option. Their large dog required 2 vials. I can only imagine how many vials a horse would require.

    Anti-venin has an extremely short shelf-life, and is made from actual venom “milked” from live snakes. Some exciting work is being done with synthetic anti-venins which will, hopefully, be less expensive, more available, more effective, less dangerous, etc.

    I see another DVM has posted a comment with a ton of great info, so I won’t go there, but I thought I’d share our hospital’s anecdote.

    • Stacy on June 17, 2014 at 8:26 am

      The one good thing about all of this is everything I am learning!

  18. patsy main on June 16, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    prayers for your horse and you

  19. Sara Schultz on June 16, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    Prayers for your mare

  20. Mindy Kelly on June 16, 2014 at 10:52 pm

    Stacy watch your feed the snake could have been snuggled down inside the feed when it was put out.

  21. Kevin on June 16, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    I had a mare with athree week foal that was bitten by a Gwarda (western Australia, very deadly) we gave her anti venom and lots of water laced with molassis, we never did find the exact spot she was bitten, she went through lots of stages including staggering and then walking with a very heightend step with her back legs eventually the staggers stopped and after 6 hours we left her lying down with molassis water nearby and waited to see. the next morning she was pretty much back to normal although a little sluggish. interestingly enough even though there were traces of poison in her system when we had her bloods tested it did not effect the foal in any way.

    • Stacy on June 17, 2014 at 8:29 am

      That is very interesting. I talked with a lady who had a mare that was bitten four months before the foal was born. It was born blind and they were not sure if it was the bite or the treatments that had caused it.

  22. Debbie Honeycutt on June 16, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    Apparently a bad year for snakes. Have had a water moccasin and a rattler in my yard this week. Rattler bit a dog. Vet gave him Benadryl. My gelding was bitten under the neck by a water moccasin which was nasty. It swelled badly and he was given an antibiotic for the infection. Snakes are bad!

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