“CRIKEY” My horse has a Snake Bite!

October 4th, 2012 by CHTO

You would have thought with last year’s blistering summer in Texas that a horse would have been more susceptible to a snake bite. On the first day of Fall (last Saturday) I went to the barn and found my three year old Highbrowcat filly spinning in circles with her nose pointed out. I thought she might be suffering from colic, rehearsing for an audition on Dancing with the Stars or showing me she is a better reiner than a cutting horse.

Once I caught her I looked at her nose and sure enough it was beginning to swell and there was a little blood on one of her nostrils.  She either smacked her nose in the stall or had received a snake bite. Being an adept snake handler, I went and fossicked round in her feeder but found nothing.

I called my vet and unbelievably he was there within 10 minutes! Talk about an efficient house call (literally! Ok I’ll come clean – for those unaware I train horses at Jeff Foland’s ranch, he’s a DVM from Weatherford Equine). So anyway, her head had lowered by now so we knelt down to look at it and straight away Jeff thought it was either a black widow spider or a snake bite.

For some reason, I glanced back over at the feeder and low and be hold there was a snake coiled up under her feeder just where I had been standing a few minutes earlier. “Crikey” I said, “a copper head!”

I couldn’t believe how docile it was, because the snakes back home in Australia, deadly or not, will take off as soon as they feel your presence, often giving one a false sense of bravado. This snake was that indifferent (or cocky) that it had no plans to flee the crime scene. Jeff put his foot on it just behind its head and I used the shovel. Yes, it was not a moment to make Steve Irwin proud.

“I have no fear of losing my life – if I have to save a koala or a crocodile or a kangaroo or a snake, mate, I will save it.” – Steve Irwin

Nope, sure as hell wasn’t going with that quote, the one below is more like it!

“You know, you can touch a stick of dynamite, but if you touch a venomous snake it’ll turn around and bite you and kill you so fast it’s not even funny.” – Steve Irwin

Fortunately we thought the bite had probably just happened in the last 20 minutes (as my finely-honed animal intuition was telling me!). Jeff said the biggest danger to a horse bitten on the nose is swelling – not the venom itself. He said we had to make sure the nostrils don’t swell shut causing suffocation, so he gave her some anti-inflammatories, Ketofen and Dexamethasone.

Sometimes if the swelling keeps rising vets will sew a plastic syringe into the nostril to keep the horse breathing. From what I understand, many horses bitten by a snake die from suffocation not from the venom. I’ve heard it’s more common for them to be bitten on the nose when grazing than on the leg. I’m not sure about this, but you are welcome to add your feed back about your experiences with horses and snake bites.  The swelling is determined by how poisonous the snake is and how much venom is injected.

The next concern was infection from the bite so Jeff gave the mare a course of Gentamicin and Penicillin. Dr Foland was very surprised at how quickly she recovered, saying he’d never seen a horse improve so quickly. Hence we figured it because she had only just been bitten when we found her (okay so I’m not an animal psychic).

Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos, I guess it really wasn’t on my mind as I was busy trying to save my horse!

I should mention that training horses for a vet definitely has its advantages, especially when they haven’t gone to work yet. Not only that, my filly thought he had a great bedside manner!

What are you experiences/stories with horses and snake bites? Click on the comments below.


2 Comments

  1. Brian says:

    Your post, “CRIKEY” My horse has a Snake Bite! | CuttingTrainingOnline.com, is really well written and insightful. Glad I found your website, warm regards!

  2. Amy Roberts says:

    My cutting mare was bitten on the left hind leg by a diamond back rattlesnake as we jogged around a pasture in the spring. I saw the snake and the mare jumped. I got off to look but didn’t see any blood and she seemed relaxed. Assuming it was a “miss” I continued the ride.

    When we arrived at the barn, I saw the blood, called the vet as I loaded my horse and headed up. The 10 mile drive was all too long as I had dealt with snakebites on the nose but only heard of ones on the legs.

    The subsequent swelling was notorious. After the vet hooked up the IV antibiotics, he made contact with a classmate who did a lot of research on rattlesnake bites in horses.
    His recommendation was to treat with the anti venom daily until progress was no longer noted in addition to the antibiotics. There was only 1 vial in Amarillo so we got that and ordered the rest.
    The first 48 hours were agonizing to watch. There was a tremendous swelling, sweating and obvious discomfort. We blood tests to check for heart damage. The vet and helpers at the clinic were tremendous in their supportive care.

    After the initial stage, we rehabilitated with cold water, then Ice boots, hand walking and finally sent to the aqua treadmill. I was able to show her 120 days later but it was really a year before she regained all her strength and energy.

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