There are a lot of copperhead snakes where I live - what do I do if my horse gets bitten by one?
Copperheads, while “pretty” as far as snakes go, are vipers with toxic venom. Their heads are actually reminiscent of a new penny, while their body is tan and a lighter color tan. Luckily for those of us that live in the South East where copperheads live, they are not super toxic as far as most snakes go. Copperhead snakes love to live in rocky areas, marshy areas, and area where there are rodents. Just one more reason to make sure your barn and feed room has a rodent war plan. (More on that here)
Copperheads are a bit distinct in the warning they give - they strike. Some warning, right? Usually the first strike is not deep and not super filled with venom. But, younger snakes often have no idea what to do so they unload every drop of venom in their warning strike.
Unfortunately, copperhead snakes also blend into the forest floor well.
Follow the standard formula for dealing with creepy crawlies and horse emergencies - call the Vet first. Then the Vet can figure out the best treatment plan, which largely depends on the severity of the copperhead snake bite.
The thing to do is remain calm and make sure your horse moves as little as possible. You must make sure his airway is clear. As venom likes to kill and inflame tissues, a bite to the nose can mean your horse’s airway will be swollen shut. Have your Vet show you how to use a piece of hose to make an airway and how far to put it in. Standard operating procedure - similar to the course of action following a rattlesnake bite.
Many horses and pets and humans fare just fine with a copperhead snake bite, but don’t underestimate it. The venom can often interfere with cardiac function, breathing, and ultimately cause death. Treatment plans vary - medications, booster tetanus shots, IV fluids, hospitalization are all possible.
Of course we would love to prevent every single snake bite possible, and knowing how Copperheads live and act goes a long way towards that. Call your Vet and go from there!