WHAT HAPPENED TO MY HORSE’S FACE??!! – Rattlesnake Bites.

* I wasn’t feeling well today so I decided to repost this from 9/13/2011.


Have you ever seen a face like this?


Well… you don’t want to.

But, if you do, best be prepared!


Yup.  The horse above was bitten by a rattlesnake.

The good news is that most horses survive rattlesnake bites.

The bad news is that the ones who have fatal results most likely could have been helped by aware and proactive humans.


Basically, the rules are:

–Stay Calm

–If it is a face bite, insert a cut piece of garden hose or a trimmed syringe into each nostril so they remain open as the face swells.  First tape the ends of the hose or syringe to soften the ends and then insert it into the nostril (not over the hole). Once the nose swells, the tape won’t be necessary.  When the swelling subsides, the apparatus will fall out on its own.

–Move the horse as little as possible so the venom travels more slowly.

–Do not use any ‘wive’s tale’ medicines  (no tourniquet, no sucking venom out…)

–Call the vet immediately (horse may need tetanus shot, anti-biotics or anti-venom)

–Administer NSAIDs to reduce swelling and pain (Banamine…)

–Clean the wound

–Wait for the vet and keep yourself and your horse calm.  The less blood circulation of the venom (excitement), the better.

Example of a syringe with ends cut and taped


Snakes live under rocks or out in the sun, depending.   Your horse may hear a noise or see the snake and put his nose down to investigate and…

That’s how it happens.

If the horse doesn’t move quickly, he gets it in the snout.

If he does move, he may get it in the leg.


Snake bites can be fatal in an equine if its nose swells to the point where he cannot breath (horses cannot breath through their mouths), hence the snips of garden hose or tubing in the nostrils.

Bites are also fatal if the venom upsets the heart or if an infection effects the heart.  So, always best to have a vet administer antibiotics, just in case.

A bite draining – a good thing

MORE DETAIL – the effects of venom

I found this piece written by a woman who’s horse is pictured above:

The three major types of toxins in rattlesnake venom are:

1. Hemorrhagic toxin — destroys red blood cells and damages the walls of the blood vessels.

2. Necrotizing toxin — causes death and degeneration of body tissues.

3. Neurotoxin — can possibly paralyze the muscles responsible for breathing.

Rattlesnakes prey on small mammals and rodents that are killed rather quickly by the venom and are swallowed whole. The necrotizing toxin assists the snake in digesting the prey after it has been swallowed. Rattlesnake venom is not designed to kill a horse.

Swelling at the site of the bite is the most immediate and dangerous effect of the venom in the horse. The majority of the horses are bitten on the end of the nose.  The danger in this type of bite is that the nostrils will swell shut so the horse cannot breathe. Suffocation is a major concern.

The least common location of a snake bite is on the lower leg. Because the blood supply is greater in the head than in the leg, toxin does not spread as rapidly to the vital organs with this type of bite. However, due to the lesser blood supply, there is an increased danger of localized damage to the tissues of the leg.

After dealing with the problem of suffocation, the gravest concern with rattlesnake bite in horses is the effect of the venom on the heart. In some isolated cases, after the swelling has subsided and the horse seems to be well on the road to recovery, the horse will die from heart failure. There is some controversy regarding whether the effect on the heart is due to the venom or to bacteria introduced into the bloodstream at the time of the bite. However, it is believed that heart failure is due to the effects of the hemorrhagic toxins on the inner lining of the heart and the necrotizing toxins on the wall of the heart.

Bitten on the face yet also effected on the shoulder

STAY CALM! Not just the horse (this is very important) but you too! It is relatively uncommon for a horse to die from a rattlesnake bite so take a deep breath and get your wits about you.

Actually, the fact is that in most cases the horse will survive with little after effects even if he is given no treatment at all. So do not panic! Keeping the horse quiet helps him to not release any hormones that may increase the harmful effects of the venom. Also, a rapid heart rate will speed up the spread of the venom through the body. Excitement will also increase the need for oxygen which the horse may have difficulty obtaining the extra air required through his swollen nasal passages.

Move him as little as possible. If your vet can get to him where he is, then keep him there. If you are far from help on a long ride, get off and walk slowly to your trailer or nearest place where you can get professional assistance. Remember to keep calm and move very slowly.

Eyes swollen shut, cannot drink or eat…

It is imperative to obtain veterinary assistance as soon as possible. In the meantime, do not do anything to harm him further. Do not incise the area of the bite (old treatment) and apply suction or tourniquet — this just damages the injured tissues more and does not remove significant amounts of venom. There is also little you can apply directly to the wound that will do any good. The once-popular treatment of applying ice to reduce swelling is likely to cause further tissue death. Antiseptics, turpentine, kerosene and the ever popular internal treatment such as whiskey and aspirin are potentially harmful and do no good.

Remember, in most cases, you won’t even be with the horse when he is bitten and you won’t know for some time after the fact until he begins to swell at the site. As mentioned above, the only immediate danger is that the horse’s nose will swell to the point he cannot breathe.

Remove the halter so that it does not cut into the skin. If you believe that the nose is swelling so rapidly that the horse’s air may be shut off before your vet can arrive, there is something you can do. Cut off the end of the barrel of a 5cc to 20cc syringe with a sharp instrument. Smooth off the cut end with a file then push the syringe barrel, cut-off end first, up the lower channel of one nostril until you meet with resistance or the flange is just inside the nostril and no farther. Do NOT force it! As the nose swells around it, the syringe barrel will hold the airway open. A small piece of garden hose or PVC tubing will also work.

CAUTION: Because of his painful nose, the horse may fight any attempt to insert something in his nose. If he fights, just forget doing it. As long as he remains calm, he can usually obtain sufficient oxygen even through a remarkably swollen nose. Remember, the first rule of thumb is to keep him CALM!

Before and After in a Llama



(more from the same site)

In some instances, the first thing your vet will do is ensure the horse has an airway and is able to breathe. He/she may us a syringe barrel as described above or in rare cases, a tracheotomy — cutting an opening through the neck directly into the windpipe. If the horse cannot drink, than intravenous fluids may be required. In many cases, the veterinarian may decide that such measures are not needed.

The snakes mouth is loaded with harmful bacteria which makes infection a real danger. Tetanus is of particular concern. This means that antibiotics and tetanus immunization are indicated in all cases of rattlesnake bite. The single best treatment is, of course, antivenin. This is a treatment seldom used in horses as of this writing. Because of the horse’s size, it has been believed that the required dosage would be extremely expensive. Besides, most horses recover from snakebite without antivenin.

However, there has been a study conducted at Colorado State University on an equine victim with just two vials of antivenin — this would be a low dose even for a human. This horse made a spectacularly rapid recovery and the swelling of the nose had disappeared within hours. The theory of this study suggest that the size of the bite victim may be irrelevant. What is important is the amount of the venom and the amount of antiventin to neutralize it. The amount of venom injected by the rattlesnake is not related to the size of the victim. The same total amount of venom is circulating in the blood of animals of different sizes. This then may mean that there may be no difference between the amount of antivenin required to neutralize it in the human, dog or horse. This is an important discovery as antivenin may be the best way to prevent the occassional lethal effects on the heart. However, let it be said that further study is necessary to determine the value of small doses of antivenin in the horse.

Draining is normal


I found this very good advise from Willis Lamm

The best way to survive a snakebite is to not get bitten!
Rattlers often take cover under rocks and logs, particularly if the temperature doesn’t suit them. In cold weather they often group together in dens. When resting during a ride in rattlesnake country, the rider should check carefully around rocks and logs before sitting down and never place hands and feet where they can’t be seen clearly.


Rattlesnakes blend in…

Occasionally snakes will be found sunning themselves on the trail. In this state they are often comfortable and docile and don’t wish to move. If the snake doesn’t leave when you approach, I would suggest you leave it alone. If you have to pass by the snake, you may consider encouraging it to leave. I have successfully gently nudged snakes with long sticks to get them to move along, however there is a fine line between annoying a snake and getting it angry enough to load up with venom and strike.
If you have to remove a snake from the trail, a safer approach might be to calmly and lightly pitch small stones or dirt clods at the snake from a safe distance. Be patient. Usually the snake will tire of this disturbance and slither off without wishing to strike back.

Just back away slowly – the snake would rather NOT strike…

If you accidentally step on or next to a snake, prevent your horse from looking down at the snake and slowly back away. My experience with rattlers is unless they are actually stepped on, they tend to give larger animals a few seconds to get out of the way. A calm process resembling “OK snake, we’ll be going” would be a safer departure than a panicked reaction where the horse’s sudden movements may appear aggressive to the snake and provoke a strike, or worse yet, ending up stepping on the snake or getting the rider thrown.
Even if the horse is bitten, a calm departure may prevent additional strikes, particularly that potentially fatal nose strike should the horse suddenly investigate what just happened.
Rattlesnakes are generally defensive around larger animals, so unless extremely angered, they will generally choose to leave once they feel it is safe to do so. In such instances it is a good idea to give the snake a minute or so to get comfortably away before passing, listening for rustling or rattling to determine that it has actually left, not holed up in a nearby unseen den.
Keeping in mind that an unprovoked snake doesn’t want trouble any more than we do, and acting accordingly when encountering one, will generally prevent most human-serpent complications.



Two common snakes are easily confused; the harmless Gopher Snake and the dangerous Diamondback. The following differences may help you to correctly identify a snake that you may encounter.


RATTLESNAKE (including the Diamondback)

Rattler has fangs

  1. Triangular head, noticeably larger than the body
  2. Thick, dull (not glossy) body

    Rattler carries tail upward

  3. Tail blunt with one or more rattles
  4. Generally travels with tail pointed up


Rattlesnake. Bad.  Dull skin, big head, tail up, fangs


  1. Head only slightly larger than the body; sleek looking
  2. Slender, glossy body
  3. Pointed tail
  • Note: The gopher snake, when frightened, will often try to imitate a rattler by hissing and shaking its tail in dry grass or leaves. If in doubt, assume it is a rattler and stay away.

A gopher snake, although non-poisonous, will strike like a rattler to fend off danger. Gopher snake bites can be easily discerned from rattler bites. The gopher snake has complete sets of small, sharp teeth on both upper and lower jaws, while the rattler has only two fangs on the upper jaw. Rather than leave two deep puncture marks, the gopher snake will leave two sets of needle- like punctures, following the shape of the upper and lower jaws.

Gopher snake bites can be quite painful, and the wound, like any animal bite, should be cleansed, but this snake has no venom and thus is considered harmless

Gopher snake. Good.  Shiny body, small head, tail down, teeth



In my reading, everyday people have used Vitamin C to assuage the swelling in dogs and horses.

I did not see any medical support, but many people said they felt that the vitamin C was a huge boost to the healing process.

My neighbor’s horse recently suffered a rattler bit and she wrote to me:

 “In my research on the web, I also discovered that Vitamin C was recommended for a rattlesnake bite.  I wasn’t sure of the dosage but I had powdered Vit C on hand and gave him about 2,000 units 4 times the first and second day and then twice a day after that, by syringe.  I dissolved it in water and added a little agave syrup (sugar or honey would work too) as it’s kinda bitter and he objected to the taste at first.

Miley has made an amazing recovery–by the second day the swelling had gone down over 60% and he was able to eat hay again.  He continues to improve and the swelling is almost gone. “

Good to know…

They say Vitamin C helps the swelling resolve



Click on the photo and watch a video of water being administered to a filly with a fresh rattlesnake bite.

This is what the owner wrote about the video:

My 2 yr old filly got bit by a diamondback rattlesnake right on the nose, you can see the puncture marks between the nostrils. Her eyes were swollen shut for 3 days. We gave her water through a syringe for 3 days 24/7 and fed her soaked hay pellets. It was 116 degrees in AZ at the time. She pulled through with the help of my great vet, cortisone, bute and penicillin. No after effects either. She’s a happy and healthy filly now.

Click image to watch video



Stay calm, Nose clearance, Administer anti inflammatory, Keep activity low, Emergency call to the vet.




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4 comments have been posted...


    I had a mini bitten by a copperhead. Her head was HUGE but showed no signs of stress or discomfort, happily grazing. Got lucky

  2. Bonnie J Bishop

    not about snake bite.

    On the mules that carried sand for the construction of the Rota, Spain, Naval Base in the 1955 to 1958 years. They used worms, I am sure they meant maggots, if they had serious hoof infections, to clean the area. The notes I read said 25 worms for 24 hours, packed inside a hemp cloth.
    were used on the mules that carried sand for the construction of the Rota, Spain, Naval Base in the 1955 to 1958 years.
    So you are following a long used treatment. I am sure you knew that, but it is amazing to see it in the book about the base.
    They also used a cooked potato over a base of centipede paste, rubbed into ulcers and sores.

  3. Caleb

    Great advice for dealing with a situation like this. Thank you for sharing. This information will definitely come in handy in a situation like this.

  4. Kitty Bo

    Yes, I am familiar w/ a horse that looks like that, luckily not my own, but there was one at the vet once. Very sad looking creature, although it lived. I also saw a similar face on my blue heeler once when he got snake bitten. I was trying to shoot a rattle snake w/ a .22, which I don’t recommend, and the dogs were excited. Although they were wary of rattlers, Hank got too close and got bitten on the face. The vet said it is actually a better place to get bitten because a bite on the leg is more fatal. Hank was very, very miserable for a while, but was treated w/ steroids and antihistamines. That was years ago, and now there is a snake venom vaccine which I get for my little dogs that I have now. I’ve had my share of encounters w/ rattle snakes, and one thing I can warn about is that even if you kill them, they don’t die. That head can still react. I can also say if you have to kill one, use “snake charmers” and .410, not a .22.

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