What to do if a snake bites your horse

Snakes love warm weather, this means horses are at increased risk for snake bites during the summer months.  Horses are most commonly bitten on the nose due to their poor vision and curious nature, but they can also be bitten on their legs if they accidentally step on or near a snake.

In Florida there are only a few venomous snakes.  Rattlesnakes, water moccasins/cottonmouth, and coral snakes.  Here is a link to help you identify venomous snakes in Florida.  It is a good idea to become familiar with venomous snakes in the area for your safety and that of your animals.

Fortunately some snake bites are dry bites, where the snake does not inject venom.  You will know if your horse had a venomous bite because there is rapid swelling of tissue.

What to do if your horse is bitten by a snake:

  • Keep yourself and your horse calm so the venom does not travel through the horse’s body any faster.
  • Call a veterinarian immediately.
  • If at all possible, bring your trailer to your horse.  If not, gently walk the horse to its trailer or stable.  Do not ride your horse and do not walk him any farther than absolutely necessary.
  • At home keep him quiet and get veterinary help as quickly as possible.

Here are some things NOT to do in case your horse is bitten by a snake:

  • Do not try to trap or kill the snake.  It is a waste of time – the best use of your time is to try to help your horse as quickly as possible.  If the snake is trapped in a building, call a professional to remove it, and keep your pets away from a snake.  Because they are smaller, a bite could be fatal to them.
  • Do not try to cut the area of the bite or remove the venom with your mouth.  It doesn’t work and you could do yourself harm.
  • Do not apply a tourniquet to the area.
  • Do not apply heat to the bite, it only speeds the spread of venom.

If veterinary care is not available quickly and your horse has a swollen nose and is having difficulty breathing:

  • Cut two pieces of lawn hose each approximately eight inches long.
  •  Lubricate the outside of one end of a hose segment with cooking oil.
  • Gently insert the tube into the nose of the horse until it no longer slides easily or about one inch still protrudes for the nose, whichever is first.  Secure with tape.  Repeat on the other side.

To prevent snake bites:

  • Avoid riding near paved roads at night.  After sunset snakes are attracted to the radiant heat in the pavement.
  • Standing water on trails could harbor venomous water snakes.
  • Avoid poorly maintained area with logs or other snake hiding places.
  • The biggest thing you can do to prevent snake bites is to trust your horse.  If your horse shies from a bush or hesitates to cross a barrier or acts nervous, give him the benefit of the doubt.  In areas that are more likely to have snakes, use strong lower leg wraps to protect your horse’s legs from a snake bite.  Always carry a first aid kit and learn how to monitor your horse’s vital signs.

More Information

The UF Large Animal Hospital veterinarians treat equine and large animal patients from the Gainesville, Ocala and Jacksonville areas, including Alachua and Marion Counties in Florida, and our clients come from all over the United States. Contact us to make an appointment.

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