Snake Bite Information

By Deb Haines

Of all snake species on the planet only 1/3 of them are poisonous. There are only 4 different types of poisonous snakes in the U.S. They are Cottonmouths, Copperheads, Rattlesnakes, and last but defiantly not the least Coral Snakes.

Head Shape: Non-Venomous snakes usually have a spoon-shaped rounded heads and venomous snakes will usually have a more triangular shaped head. The reason their heads are triangular is because of the venom glands.

Eyes: One of the easiest and best way to tell if a snake is venomous or non-venomous. If the snake is venomous it will have elliptical eyes like a cat, like the little devils that they are and if it is non-venomous it will have round eyes like a human.

Heat Sensor: Some venomous snakes have a depression between their eyes and their nostrils. This is called a pit, this is used by the snake to sense heat in their prey.

Watch out for Mimics: Some non-venomous snakes will mimic the patterns and behaviors of venomous snakes as a self defense tactic. Eastern milk snakes can look like Copperheads, Rat snakes can look like Rattlers, and a harmless King snake can look like a Coral snake. When you first come across a snake always assume that it is a venomous snake, until you can verify weather it is or is not. Even though you will want to kill a snake when you come across it be careful cause it could be against the law and another reason is because snakes control rodent populations, and also control snake populations as well. This was not an in-depth post on venomous snakes but it is enough so you can tell the difference between the two and make an educated decision on what to do. One rule of thumb that you should live by is if you see a snake don’t mess with it.

Snake bites by American Association of Equine Practitioners

Horse bit by tiger snake

Horse bit by rattle snake

Member questions and Answers

1) Is the rattlesnake vaccine really worth it? Dr. David Turoff…… It’s very hard to say, because it’s kind of hard to conduct efficacy studies for a vaccine against something as variable as a snakebite, so we have to depend on our clinical impressions, which are much less reliable, but fwiw, here’s mine after using the vaccine from Red Rock Biologicals since it was introduced:……………..I see about 6 or 7 snakebites a year in horses, all probably from Western Diamondbacks (though we almost never see the snake itself). Although they certainly could, very seldom do horses die from it, even if not untreated immediately, but they do suffer considerable morbidity, including sometimes facial nerve paralysis. Treatment, including anti-venin, lessens this a lot. I have only seen two of the several hundred horses that I’ve vaccinated subsequently suffer a snakebite, and my subjective impression is that the clinical signs in these horses were less severe than average, but snakebites themselves are so variable that t’s hard to be sure…………….. I will say that we have seen a very how rate of adverse reactions to the vaccine (none, actually, so far), so the decision to use it is only an economic one…………The vaccine series is expensive, so I’ve been advising clients to use it based on need. A cutting horse stalled in a barn/paddock, and ridden in an arena, is at low risk………… endurance horse in a pasture with rocks, trees, fence lines, elevated waterers and feeders, and other elements of good snake habitat, and ridden on trails in wilderness areas is at high risk………….hope this helps. DrT

2) What is the prescribed treatment for a snake bite ? Dr. Madison Seamans…….Snakebite: the only thing I know of that strikes more fear than the “c” word (colic!) I have attended several hundred equine/snake encounters and it is exceedingly rare to see one on the leg. Horses, curious beasts that they are, will commonly stick their substantial nose down to get a good smell of that strange buzzing sound at their feet. The snake, not too overly fond of thousand-pound, curious creatures with the ability to make them substantially flatter, will great said nose with a double-needled injection of some pretty nasty venom. BINGO! the horse swells up like a watermelon. Oddly, most horses will survive, the snake may suffer some temporary incontinence due to his near death experience…but who really cares about the snake. I have seen a few that had difficulty breathing due to the nasal swelling, and they required a temporary tracheostomy…but this is not common. The venom is hemotoxic: attacks red blood cells. But, in addition, the snake fangs harbor bacteria that can cause an infection. For this reason, antibiotics are typically used. Antivenin, given in fairly small doses in humans with large insurance policies, is cost prohibitive in the horse. In reality, I have had several clients that opted against treatment at all, and the horses did just fine.

Dr. David Turoff ………Pretty much agree with most of that. In 35 years of practice, I’ve seen about 6 or 7 snakebites per year, so maybe 200-250 all told, and I’ve seen only one on a leg. The others were all on the face…………No fatalities resulted, though a few did develop facial paralysis……………One required a tracheostomy……………I treat with Penicillin, one dose of steroid, NSAIDS for a while, and tetanus prophylaxis. If the client can afford it, I give also one unit of antivenom, and think it helps. There is also a (pre-bite) vaccine available fro Red Rock Biologics, which I think helps, but it’s hard to tell because I’ve only had one horse properly vaccinated subsequently bit by a snake, and he did have mild symptoms, but snake bites vary in severity anyway.

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