EquiSearch's Ask the Vet: Rattlesnake Bites

Dr. Joyce Harman recommends several remedies for snakebite in this edition of EquiSearch.com's Ask the Vet.

Question:What do you use for rattlesnake bites? I was reading in Pat Coleby’s book Natural Horse Care that vitamin C injected intramuscular on both sides of the neck works. Is this true? Can you give me more details on exactly how much and how often you need to do an injection? Should you keep a tube on hand to put down their nose if they are bitten in the nose so the swelling doesn’t stop the airflow? I have heard of a rash of snakebites recently in our area and want to be prepared if the need arises.

Answer: Rattlesnake bites can be very serious and fairly common in many parts of the country. Vitamin C injectable may help, but is hard to keep on hand. Vitamin C without preservatives added can be obtained, but it has a short shelf life, must be refrigerated and must be used completely when the bottle is opened. Vitamin C with preservatives is much more common, but personally I have had some abscesses and bad reactions to the injection. However, if the horse is in serious trouble, an abscess from an injection may be the least of his worries.

Vitamin C by itself does not cure rattlesnake bites, but it helps the immune system cope with the poisons and helps the tissues heal.

When a horse has severe swelling in the head and throat area and is having trouble getting air, a breathing tube of some sort can be life saving. Even a garden hose can be used, though your vet will likely have a better solution. In most cases, when a horse is in this kind of trouble, a hole will need to be made directly into the trachea, since you will not be able to get a tube down through the nose. However, in an emergency situation, you can try to pass a tube, but do not use force, as you can cause serious damage to the delicate structures of the nose and throat.

What I have found that can work well for snake bites is homeopathy, which is a form of natural medicine that is very safe to use for acute situations. Once your horse has survived the acute situation, and you are back near a phone, you will want to consult with your veterinarian or a homeopathic veterinarian to follow up with long-term treatment. But you can use the remedies easily yourself when the bite occurs.

There are several remedies that can be easily carried in a pouch while riding and can be kept in the barn forever, since they do not spoil if kept in a tack trunk or cupboard. All remedies can be given at about 6-8 tabs per dose. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to worry about touching the remedies, giving them with food or leaving them in a hot trailer. In a snakebite case, you may want to dissolve the little pills in some water and just squirt them in the mouth or even in the rectum, if the bite was in the head and is painful. All remedies in a 30C or 30X potency or strength are obtainable in many health food stores, my website or online homeopathic suppliers, such as Washington Homeopathic.

Remedies that are useful for snakebites include Ledum Palustra, which is easy to get and is often the first remedy to give. The indications for this remedy often are: the wound feels cold, and the horse does not like cold water or compresses. Another remedy is Belladonna, which is more for horses that are panicked and scared and have hot skin. I would carry these two remedies in a kit on the trail. Lachesis (not as easy to find) can often be used if the skin seems purple and hot.

Dr. Joyce Harman is a veterinarian and respected saddle-fitting expert certified in veterinary acupuncture and veterinary chiropractic; she is also trained in homeopathy and herbal medicine. Her Harmany Equine Clinic is in northern Virginia.

Have you had a similar experience? Talk about it in the EquiSearch.com Forum.

Do you have a veterinary question for Dr. Harman? Send it to asktheexperts@equinetwork.com. Check back for her answers on EquiSearch.com.

What did you think of this article?

Thank you for your feedback!