It’s that time of year again. Snakes are coming out of their dens and searching for that first meal of the spring. It is only March here in Texas and I have already seen over a dozen snakes on my place.
I grew up in rattlesnake country. Our home ranch was nestled way up in the Sierra Nevada mountains and there weren’t any snakes there, but on the ranch where we pastured our cattle in the winter, we were overrun. My dad, bless his heart, had a solid vendetta for the rattlesnake. If he so much as caught a glimpse of one slithering under a rock, he would spend all day hunting it. I even saw him go as far as moving big rocks with tractor just to keep one from getting away. My dad was full of great cowboy stories, but some of my favorites were of him hunting snakes. He sure did hate those legless, slithering, devil serpents!
Dad has been gone several years now (not due to snake bite), but his dislike of snakes was clearly passed down to me. It is by that sheer fact alone that I have decided the dumbest thing I have ever done was move to Texas. For those of you that have heard the saying, “Everything is bigger in Texas,” you know they are definitely talking about the snakes! I spent a good 2 years out here before I ever really saw one. Then, one day, I was riding the 4-wheeler out in the pasture when I noticed my dogs looking at something. I have a tendency to do everything at a high rate of speed, so I had the 4-wheeler in 4th gear headed over to see what the dogs were up to. A critical part of this story is that my 4-wheeler lacks working brakes. So, I came speeding up to where my dogs were and before I could get stopped, I was side by side with a rattlesnake, coiled and ready to strike. Another critical part of this story is that I was in shorts and flip flops. My life flashed before my eyes. It was on that day that I realized I was my father’s daughter.
Since that day, we have killed over 20 large snakes on my place and have seen countless others. When I say large, I’m talking over 5 foot. We have found dens where there are 30 snakes or more inside. I have participated in the hunt itself and find it satisfying to know that there are one or two less snakes on my place. However, I’m not going to sit here and lie to your face…I am TERRIFIED of these creatures. They literally have been the topic of more than one of my nightmares and I have contemplated moving back to the mountains on more than one occasion. While I fear for my personal safety and the safety of my family and pets, one of my biggest worries is that one of my horses will get bit.
I have been told more than once by veterinarians that most rattlesnake bite cases in horses are NOT life threatening. But, that’s not to say that they can’t be. The most common places your horse will get bit is the nose/face and on the legs. If the bite is on the nose, the swelling could cause the nostrils/airways to become blocked, thus suffocating the horse. If the bite is on the leg, it can cause severe soft tissue damage which could cause long term lameness or worse. Here are some tips for if your horse gets bitten by a snake.
Keep Calm– I’ll admit, my first instinct when something goes wrong is to panic. I am usually pretty good at keeping myself under control, but internally, I am a complete mess. 9 times out of 10, you are not going to be present when or if your horse gets bitten by a snake. Unless you are riding your horse when it happens, you won’t typically notice until the swelling is present. You are most likely going to come out to find that your horse looks like something you would see in a cartoon, but the odds are that it isn’t as bad as it looks. I had a dog get bit by a snake last year and his head swelled up to the size of a basketball. He looked ridiculous, but he was still eating and drinking and wagging his tail. Honestly, he was pretty proud of himself for whatever predicament he had gotten himself into. After a quick call to the vet, I was told to give him some Benadryl and he would be fine. Sure enough, he made a full recovery and he is back to his old rambunctious, inquisitive self. So, in the instance that you believe your horse has been bitten, keep calm and carefully inspect your horse for puncture wounds. A lot of the time, when a snake bites, it is a dry bite. This means that the snake has already excreted its venom into its most recent meal or is just startled and bites without injecting. You also want to keep your horse as calm as possible and keep him from moving around too much. If the snake did inject its venom with the bite and your horse is running around, it causes the blood to pump which can spread the venom through the blood stream a lot quicker.
Call Your Vet Immediately– When in doubt, call your vet immediately so that he or she can talk you through exactly what needs to be done. I know that we all have that home taught vet degree, but it doesn’t hurt to call and at least get a little direction from trusted professional.
Administer A NSAID– If you have some Bute or Banamine, administer it to help with pain and inflammation.
Keep Airways Open– As stated above, your horse may get bitten on the nose which could cause the swelling to block his airways. Horses cannot breathe through their mouth, so they must be able to get oxygen through their nostrils. In the event that your horse gets bit on the nose, you can cut a piece of hose into 6 inch pieces and insert them into the nostrils to keep the airway open. Do not force them up the airway, only insert them until you meet resistance and stop. You don’t want to cause more harm than good! Keep them in place with tape as needed.
Get To The Vet– Try to get your horse to the vet as soon as possible so that they can administer an antibiotic and start treatment for the bite. DO NOT try to cut the wound and suck out the venom and DO NOT apply a tourniquet of any kind.
After treatment, your horse should start healing within a week. The swelling will subside and the dead skin will begin to slough from around the area of the bite. Again, this looks a lot worse than it really is. Keep the area clean and dry and your horse should be back to normal in no time.
As someone who is less than a fan of the creepy crawly, I wish I could tell you there was a sure proof way to avoid snakes. But, just short of moving to the Arctic, most places have a snake or two. If you live in an area where snakes are abundant, you are going to have a run in with them at some time or another. Just remember, keep calm and be prepared! Knowing the tips above could potentially save your horse’s life.