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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.”

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