FIRST AID FOR SNAKEBITES
The venom from snakebites isn’t typically fatal to adult horses—their large size dilutes the toxins enough that they rarely do serious damage to the internal organs. But snake venom can cause severe local swelling at the site of the bite, and if a horse is bitten on the head while grazing, the swelling may impede his breathing to an extent that can be life-threatening.
Call your veterinarian if you witness a bite from a venomous snake—or if you find your horse with a sudden, dramatic, painful swelling on the head or legs. A bite on the leg is less immediately life-threatening, but because neurological complications and local tissue death are a possibility, your veterinarian will still want to begin treatment quickly. You will most likely need to bring your horse into a clinic, but you’ll also want to take some steps to stabilize him in the meantime.
If the bite is on the head, your priority is to make sure your horse’s airways remain open. Look for some sort of short tubing, such as six- to eight-inch segments cut from a garden hose or a plastic syringe with the ends removed. (If you ride in areas where poisonous snakes are common, consider carrying these with you on the trail.)
If the horse’s breathing becomes noisy or you can see the swelling progressing around the muzzle, wet or spit on one of the tubes and insert it carefully into the lower part of the nostril. Push it in about four inches, so that it will remain in place on its own. If the swelling is centered around the muzzle, you may need to insert tubes into both nostrils.
Next, apply cold therapy to minimize the swelling and inflammation. Apply ice or cold-therapy wraps, if you have them, or the coldest water available, directly to the bite site. If your horse’s behavior changes —he suddenly becomes dramatically overexcited or lethargic—call your veterinarian back with this new information.
the same: antibiotic ointment and atropine to keep the pupil dilated until the cornea could heal.
Fancy’s head was still slightly swollen when she returned home the following Saturday, but she was feeling and acting almost normal.
“We didn’t see any external necrosis of the tissue around the bite area, which was a relief,” says Ezell. “She wasn’t able to close her eye fully to blink, which was keeping the eye from being naturally lubricated and irritating the ulcer. So we just kept using antibiotic drops until the swelling resolved and she was able to blink completely on her own again.”
Before long, Fancy was back out in the pasture with her herd, with no apparent lingering effects from her ordeal. “She returned immediately to her lead-mare position,” says Ezell. “She’s the head honcho out there.”
The American Association of Equine Practitioners includes a vaccine against the toxin of the Western diamondback rattlesnake on its list of risk-based vaccination guidelines---a fact Ezell wasn’t aware of until Judd told her. “I vaccinate all my dogs, but it had never crossed my mind for the horses,” she says. “I’m certainly thinking about the benefit of it now.”
What she’s not going to do is hunt for the snake that bit Fancy. “People have asked me if I’m going to go looking for it to get revenge,” Ezell says. “Why would I do that? I don’t want to get myself bit. We will definitely be alert and careful now, but I’m not going to go looking for it.”