Snake Bites in Horses

Horses are most commonly bitten by poisonous snakes, such as rattlesnakes, copperheads and coral snakes, in the spring and summer months. Horses at pasture are often bitten on the nose and head. Bites to the head and nose are true medical emergencies. These may cause swelling of the nose and surrounding tissue, making it difficult for the horse to breathe. Bites to the legs are less common and less serious, and usually occur during rides through snake-infested areas. In addition to swelling, the venom causes tissue destruction and blood clotting problems.

If Your Horse is Bitten by a Snake

  1. If you see or hear snake when riding, move away from the area.
  2. If you think your horse has been bitten, move away from the area, dismount and examine the legs for blood, swelling or puncture marks.
  3. Slowly hand walk the horse back to the stable or trailer.
  4. Keep the horse calm.

Treatment of Snake Bites

If you are unsure whether your horse was bitten, clip the hair on the legs and examine for dark oozing blood, puncture holes (1 or 2), swelling or discoloration of the wound area. If you find a snake bite after clipping away the hair, apply cold packs to the area. Do not apply ice directly to the skin, as this will freeze the skin and further damage the tissue. You may be initially unable to determine if your horse has been bitten. Observe your horse’s legs or muzzle for 1-2 hours for signs of swelling, blood, or discoloration. Medical treatment involves the use of antibiotics to prevent infection at the bite site and corticosteroids to reduce inflammation.

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