rattlesnakes and horses

Rattlesnakes and horses – what to do if your horse is bitten.


There are plenty of places in this country where you are going to find rattlesnakes. I can tell you from personal experience two things about them:


  • They are more afraid of humans and horses and dogs than we are of them.


  • Have a plan in case you run into one. Have another plan if you, your horse or dog, is bitten.


rattlesnake in a zoo



There are a few things that you can do around the barn and farm to limit rattlesnakes in your “space”.


  • First, we need to understand how rattlers live in order to live around them. And, we should know that over 30 species of rattlesnakes live on the planet, with habitats between Canada and as far south as Argentina. Count on about 70 subspecies, each subspecies with its own idiosyncrasies and habits.


  • That being said, rattlesnakes, in general, have some ways of life that we know about. They are temperature sensitive, and in many areas are only active at dusk. Most rattlers prefer temps between 80 and 90 degrees. Many species hibernate in winter where temperatures are not hospitable.


  • The favorite meals of rattlesnakes are rodents, birds, and lizards. Wage war on rodents and mice at your barn and farm, and you are infinitely less likely to have rattlesnakes on your property. Limit holes and burrows on your farm, and you are also one step ahead.


  • For the most part, you will need to do some research on the specific species that live in your area to learn their habits to work around them. Some species like open areas with rock formations, some species like a specific type of brush or shrub. Some species live in holes and burrows. Learn what the species in your area like to eat and how they live, and you can stay ahead of the curve and create a farm that no rattlesnake wants to live on.


Now what to do if your horse is bitten by a rattlesnake?



horse with swollen nose that has been bitten by a rattlesnake

  • This poor dude has the classic swollen nose, complete with tubes sutured into his nostrils so he can breathe. Add fluids, meds, and rest. Photo courtesy of Rachael M.


For horses, you need to know that rattlesnake venom can cause massive tissue damage, crazy amounts of swelling, cardiac damage, and even neurological damage.


  • Some of this damage may be permanent. This is not an injury to be taken lightly and can be terribly painful for your horse. The first thing you need to do is call your veterinarian as soon as possible.


  • You also need to immobilize your horse to limit the spread of toxins.


  • What you should NOT do is apply ice, apply a tourniquet, or suck out the venom.


  • Your veterinarian will likely do blood work, administer fluids, and possibly antivenom.


  • Have your veterinarian show you how to insert a small (6 inches or so) piece of tubing or hose into your horse’s nose in case he is bitten on the nose or face and the swelling threatens his breathing. This is a distinct possibility with a rattlesnake bite, so get a lesson from your veterinarian before snake season hits! Keep this hose with you in your vet kit, and also with you on a trail ride if you will be far from home.



IV fluid bag


You may also want to talk to your Veterinarian about a rattlesnake vaccine.


  • These are available for horses and dogs. Let me be clear about this – these vaccines do not “cure” a future rattlesnake bite, but they can help your horse or dog slow the process down. You still need to call the Veterinarian and have further treatments.