The snake wouldn’t have attacked Cary Lightsey’s horse had it not been in pain. In fact, Cary rides through the same area of snake-infested woods just about every day, and he has only had to deal with one snake bite. The majority of snake bite cases reported in the United States are people bitten while trying to pick up one of the slithery reptiles.
“Even if you can’t see the snake, a horse often knows it’s there through its animal senses and can tell you there’s something wrong,” Dr. Robert Gukich, of Lake Wales, Florida, says. “If a horse balks at going over an obstacle, there may be a reason for it.”
Snakes tend to hide under logs and rocks or in shady areas when the weather is hot. Be careful on the trail, as well as at home, especially when moving obstacles in your pasture or arena.
However, if your horse is bit, the following guidelines may help in its recovery:
- Assume the snake is venomous. If possible, take a good look at the snake. Veterinarians can better treat your horse if they know what kind of snake bite they are dealing with.
- Get medical treatment immediately. “Timing makes a big difference in the horse’s chances of survival, especially if the horse is bit on the head,” Dr. Gukich says. “Get your horse to a veterinarian as soon as possible.” Head bites are common because horses, out of curiosity, often stretch their nose down to sniff a snake. Because the head is an area of major blood supply, head bites can be far more serious than bites to limbs.
If you spend a lot of time on trails or in areas heavily populated with snakes, talk with your veterinarian about a personalized first-aid kit that will fit in your saddlebag or trailer. Be sure you know the best way to administer the drugs.
“If your veterinarian agrees, I think it’s a good idea to carry some corticosteriods, an analgesic agent and maybe even a tourniquet with you,” Dr. Gukich says. “If you’re way out in the woods, it often takes a large-animal vet an hour or so – even for emergency services – to reach you. If you carry some drugs to give the horse immediately, it can greatly increase the comfort of the horse before the veterinarian arrives.”
To find out more about how to react to a snake bite, go to America's Horse Daily.
Photo: The aftermath of a muzzle-bite: major swelling in the face area. Photo courtesy of Dr. Murray Fowler, University of California-Davis.