October 6, 2011
Would you be prepared if your horse was bitten?
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.
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- Calm the horse down. Increased heart rate causes higher blood flow, dispersing the venom to larger areas of the body.
- Place a wide constricting tourniquet, such as a rolled-up bandana or piece of clothing, about two inches above the bite, if the bite is on the horse’s leg. The band should be tight enough to compress the veins and lymphatic vessels, but not tight enough to constrict the underlying arteries. It should be as tight as the band a nurse applies when drawing blood. Do not place tourniquets on the horse’s head.
- Wash the bite with soap and water. If possible, get the horse to a stall or confined area, even if that means trailering for a short distance.
- Do not cut the bite area. Recent research shows that this old practice worsens the damage.
- Do not suck venom from the bite by mouth. It might not hurt to use a rubber suction cup from a snake-bite kit, but many experts say this practice doesn’t necessarily help the situation.
- Do not apply cold or hot compresses. Leave the wound at its current temperature.
- Call your veterinarian immediately. Make sure your cell-phone batteries are charged before you ride.
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.
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“If your veterinarian agrees, I think it’s a good idea to carry some corticosteroids, 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.”
Here are a few suggestions for emergency supplies:
- Tourniquet – or make your own from a bandana. The goal is to keep the venom in the bite area; the tourniquet helps prevent the blood from spreading throughout the horse’s bloodstream
- Analgesic agent or corticosteroid – to ease the horse’s pain and reduce inflammation
- Cell phone
- Six-inch piece of garden hose that can be lubricated and inserted into the nostrils of a horse who has been bitten on the face. Face bites swell dramatically, and the hose piece might keep the horse’s air passages open enough to enable him to breath until swelling subsides with treatment.
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