If you live in the United States, you probably already know that we have four venomous snake species: the copperhead, the cottonmouth, the coral snake, and the rattlesnake. The rattlesnake includes several sub-species, including the timber rattler, the pygmy rattler, and the sidewinder. Chances are that at least one of these species resides in your area of the nation. The copperhead’s range includes much of the eastern US, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, and Missouri. The cottonmouth can be found in the Southeast, Virginia, Arkansas, and Texas. The coral snake inhabits the Southeast and Texas. Rattlesnake species have the widest range of all and are endemic to the eastern US as far north as New Hampshire, in the Southeast, in the Southwest, the Midwest, and from Iowa to the Northwest and California.
A snake bite can be deadly to a horse. While many do recover, they can be left with permanent nerve or tissue damage. Amazingly, sometimes the bite itself is difficult to see, especially if the horse has been bitten on the leg or pastern. Oftentimes, a snake bite in these locales will not cause excessive swelling immediately because of the small amount of muscle tissue present, and because of thick hair, the fang marks might be difficult to find. For these reasons, it’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms themselves.
Most horses that get bitten by a snake receive the bite on the nose or face. This is because when a horse sees or hears a snake, it usually lowers its head to have a closer look. When the equine does this, the snake becomes startled and strikes.
Not only is the nose and face the most common bite sites, they’re also the deadliest. A horse bitten on the nose, face, or neck will usually have excessive local swelling that can close the airways, causing the horse to suffocate before it can receive anti-venom from the veterinarian.
Typical symptoms of snake bite in equines includes excessive sweating, tremors, convulsions, paralysis, muscle spasms, increased respiration, and excessive salivating. The horse might appear confused, and it might wobble and weave as it attempts to walk. It might also try to avoid bright sunlight, or it could lie down and be unable to rise.
If the horse was bitten on the face or nose, the bite marks will most likely be evident: two puncture wounds a half inch to an inch apart, depending on the size of the snake. There could also be a purplish bruising. The most indicative sign of a snake bite to the nose or face, however, is the rapid, extensive swelling. The horse’s entire head could swell, and its eyes could even be swollen shut.
If this happens on the outside of the horse’s head, imagine what’s going on inside. All that inflamed tissue begins to block the air passages shut, making it difficult or impossible for the horse to breathe. If that’s the case, place two short sections of stiff garden hose into the horse’s nostrils, tape them in place, and call your vet immediately. Try to get the horse to keep his head down, and do not let him move. Any movement will increase blood flow and will allow the venom to travel.