Jenny Pearce

Snakes are out – here’s a simple and cheap snakebite treatment for horses

We’re well into Spring and the snakes are out and about here in Australia.  Horses don’t get bitten very often, but if it does happen, you can treat them with under $17 worth of injectable Vitamin C as a first aid treatment while waiting for the vet.  Depending on what happens from there, it might just save you thousands of dollars in anti-venine.  I have a 100ml bottle of Vitamin C in the fridge, a size 18 needle and a 20 ml syringe handy for just this possibility.

Some snakebites can be the cause of tetanus in the bite site later, so you’ll want their tetanus vaccinations up to date too.  The bite site can also get very infected, even gangrenous and any treatment of snakebite should include treatment of the wound.  If you can’t find the bite site straight away, you’ll see it later with hair loss around the site, often with a wound developing.

If a horse gets bitten on the muzzle, then their face can swell and they’ll need their airways kept open. The vets at Equine Vet Care describe how to use garden hose as a first aid measure to keep a horse’s airway open while you wait for the vet, cutting off four inches of garden horse, taped the end to protect the internal membranes of the nose and insert  gently up each nostril.  The hose will fall out when the swelling goes down.

The same vets at Equine Care Clinic, like many other vets, state categorically that Vitamin C doesn’t work for snakebite, citing Kentucky Equine Research, but I’ve searched their site extensively and can’t find that research.  I would want to know HOW they set up their study and came to their conclusions because I know that Pat Coleby had such extensive success with dozens of her own and clients’ animals that she would have argued them to death over it.

Pat Coleby, (dear old soul isn’t with us anymore) was the person who brought to us here in Australia, the snakebite Vitamin C information in her excellent book Natural Horse Care.  Here’s a PDF to read her own words on the subject. vitcsnake

Over the years, I’ve treated 3 dogs successfully with Vitamin C and several horses, with advice by distance – all successfully thank goodness – one of those confirmed by vet testing as a definite venomous snakebite.

The signs of snakebite are usually weakness and collapse. The weakness tends to be progressive. That is, it starts in the back and then works forward. It gradually gets worse. They then tend to spend more time lying down. It then progresses further to paralysis of the diaphragm and chest muscles and subsequently death.  You can also get damage to the various homeostatic systems of the body such as clotting mechanisms, so one symptom sometimes seen is bleeding, either from the nose or mouth, or into mucous membranes such as the gums. And of course you often get swelling around the bite.

The snake themselves

Relax…  Snakes are actually quite cool animals.  They use their venom to catch their food, so they DON’T actually want to use their venom on something as big as a horse or a human which they can’t eat.  It’s when you stick your fingers in places where you can’t see, that you’re most at risk or when you step on one and startle them.  They are shy creatures that prefer to move away from you and the horse.

They will even sometimes “dry bite” – that is, bite without injecting venom in an attempt to scare something away, without wasting their venom.

What not to do

DO NOT cut the bite site – there is evidence that can speed up the circulation of the venom.

DO NOT suck the wound, you can kill yourself with your own mouth membranes absorbing the venom.

DO NOT kill the snake so you can take it to the vet – we don’t need both of you bitten!

DO NOT apply a tourniquet – cutting the circulation off is a very bad deal and can cause loss of the limb or even death when the tourniquet is suddenly released.

What I would do in the case of a horse with snakebite

1.  CALM YOURSELF first – pay gentle attention to your outward breath and to the way that your ribs are moving as you breathe and bring yourself to the Present moment (or as much as you can do in adverse circumstances.) There’s good reason for this – you need to be the cool calm leader FOR YOUR HORSE.  You will escalate their fear if you run around like a headless chicken and fear speeds up the heart rate which pumps the venom around faster – and that is NOT a good deal… My classic Aussie understatement there!

2.  If you have Reiki healing – take a split second, set your intention and start running the healing energy on your horse – once started, you’ll notice that your hands will heat up and start tingling and helping your horse even while you’re doing other first aid things. Click here for more information if Reiki interests you, we do a beautiful program here.

3.  If you have a bandage, bandage the limb (if it’s a limb that was bitten) with a firm BUT NOT TIGHT pressure above and below the bite – and keep checking the bandage to make sure that it’s not tightening up.  Remember, we DO NOT want the circulation cut off.

4.  Keep the horse as still as you can – movement speeds up the spread of the venom.  But relax… it’s a horse, so you can’t make him (or her) sit on the couch and put their feet up.  Because if you get upset, your horse is going to get upset too and that will speed up the circulation of the venom and we don’t want that.  That’s why we started this article with the breathing for yourself!

5.  Call the vet and get them on their way.  Then while you are waiting, inject 20 mls of your Vitamin C into each side of the neck (40 mls in total) Here’s a video of me injecting a horse who was upset at previous injections which will give you an idea of how to do it.  Check with your vet or veterinary websites for where to put the needle because I AM NOT teaching you how or where to give a needle in that video – that’s the vet’s job.  After you’ve gotten your vets advice, practice injecting an orange with water in the syringe to get the idea,   A horse’s skin is tougher but it will give you practice with the technique.  Being able to do injections is a VERY useful skill for a horse owner to have.

We’re talking about emergency first aid here, so you need to be prepared with your knowledge and skills AHEAD of time.

6.  If the bite or suspected bite is on the horse’s face, you would expect that the swelling around the airways will probably increase – so get ready – prepare 2 x 4 inch pieces of garden hose (that’s about 11 centimetres), sandpaper the edges off if you have time, wrap the ends in a soft tape if you have it, to protect the soft membranes inside the nose and be ready to gently insert one piece of hose pipe into each nostrils if you think it’s necessary.

DO NOT fight with your horse to do this, that will speed up the spread of the venom.  Ground yourself by paying gentle attention to your outward breath and the way that your ribs move as you breathe, which will help bring you out of panic (headless chicken image will make you smile and smiling is relaxing) and that will help bring you into the Present moment which is a VERY good place to be anytime with a horse and SPECIALLY in an emergency.

Use approach and retreat and the early warning signal that I call Not Quite Right to know when to back off with your bits of hose, when to go closer and when to just get the job done quickly and smoothly.  We have a brilliant little FREE lesson series called The 9 Keys to Happiness with Your Horse that explains that concept well.

7.  I would do a second 20 ml into each side of the neck a couple of hours later and follow up with Sodium Ascorbate in their mouth the next morning, or earlier if I felt it was necessary.  There are no rules here and there’s many different types of snakes that bite, so if you have a snakebit horse, you’ll have to use your own Feel and judgement and consult with your vet.

Personally, I’d send someone for a second bottle of injectable Vitamin C as soon as possible, just in case I needed it later.

8.  If you’re out in the bush, I’d make the bandaging a priority, keeping calm and and as still as possible, phoning for help and if you have Vitamin C, inject it.  We used to carry it all the time on big treks out in the bush.

9.  Notice the importance of calmness – repeated under different circumstances here.  But it’s GENUINE calmness that is the most powerful.  The simple fact is that horses take their cue from you and if you’re upset then you will escalate them, which will increase the circulation of the venom and we don’t want that.  We want to slow the venom down and give the horse’s body time to process the venom and you time to get help.  Paying gentle attention to your outward breath and noticing the movement of your ribs as you breathe is a simple way to start bringing yourself out of panic and into the Present moment.

This article is meant to be a simple first aid for snakebite, but the trouble is we have so much good stuff that I’m referring to here! 🙂 There’s a cool little program called 21 Days to a Quiet Mind – Horse Meditations, which gives you practical training in quietening your mind with your horse – that will serve you well in any emergency, including snakebite.

P.S Some days after the release of the article.

There’s been a bit of a stoush on Facebook about this article, where Eloise Deen, a vet with snakebite experience, has taken exception to the title of this article among other things.  She says “Even your title “here’s a simple and cheap snakebite treatment”, gives readers the impression that animals don’t need antivenom, all you need is cheap old vitamin c.  At very best it’s an adjunctive therapy, not a treatment.   Maybe you should change the title to “Snakes are out – here’s a cheap, non scientifically proven adjunctive therapy (not primary treatment) for horses”.






  1. Shelby 12/22/2018, 1:43 pm Reply

    The sad thing is it all about the money. JennyP even Pat knew that. Even if your animal dies you still have to pay. If that was not the case the whole medical system would change. Big money in anti venom and all the other drugs pushed. Not a lot of money can be made from vitamin C. Thats the truth. Its not weird it is the way of the world and its not about true healing.

    • jennyp 12/22/2018, 2:00 pm Reply

      I can’t imagine that anyone goes into veterinary work for the money Shelby. The world is full of good people I find. 🙂

  2. Elita 10/07/2017, 11:42 pm Reply

    Hi Jenny I have several dogs and a couple of years ago nearly lost my pet that I hand reared to a snake It was only luck my husband arrived when he did that he made it to the vet in time . I have also had a couple of close calls with my cattle dog Who is approximately 20 kg I live a fair way from town is there a guide for approximately how many mills per kg and where would you inject a dog . Thanks

    • jennyp 10/08/2017, 5:34 am Reply

      I’ve never heard of using echinacea Elita – do you have any references for that? For dosages, in The pdf file in the article called “vitcsnake” Pat Coleby talks about how much she used for a dog and where she injected it and why. Because it’s a first aid thing, which always seems ot be an emergency, the needling itself is something you want to have thought about ahead of time and practised.

    • Elita 10/12/2017, 4:55 pm Reply


  3. Gwenda Nguyen 10/07/2017, 8:46 pm Reply

    Have read a few times to use Echinacea for snake bite. at the site and internally. I keep a bottle in the fridge. Vitamin c Is very hard to get. the store where I purchased years ago has changed hands

  4. Kellie 10/07/2017, 6:27 pm Reply

    Please tell me your joking. ‘Reiki will help save your horse’. If the Vitamin C works, it’s only because your horse was going to survive it anyway. Don’t take short cuts, call your vet and get the anti venom. The ‘healing vibes of Reiki’ aren’t going to do a thing.

    • jennyp 10/07/2017, 7:00 pm Reply

      I’m not sure if you read the whole article Kellie because that was a pretty dramatic misquote? I’m certainly not advocating using Reiki instead of a vet in case of a snakebite. It is however, always the first thing I do in a first aid situation after checking the surroundings for danger, while I figure out what else I need to do. Have you ever experienced Reiki healing? It’s very special – a weird combination of gentle and powerful. I’d be happy to give you the experience with a little freebie. 🙂

  5. Mark Lawrence 10/05/2017, 7:53 pm Reply

    I’ll definitely be adding this to my first aid kit. Thanks, Jenny for the timely information.
    Over the past four years we have lost two dogs to snakebite and had a third pull through by the tiniest of margins. Possibly lost a horse as well, we never had an autopsy done so can’t tell for sure.
    The emotional cost has been high, none of the animals were over five, so had plenty of life still to live. Not to mention leaving us with a four figure vet bill that we’re still paying off.
    Naturally I’d prefer we don’t have another bite, but with a creek running through our property there’s always a risk. If vitamin c can help in the animal recover then I’m all for giving it a try.

    • jennyp 10/06/2017, 8:27 am Reply

      I’m not sure why I’m being so particular about what the vets say about this alternative method, when so much else of what they think is incurable or incredibly expensive to cure can actually be quite simple (and I’ve had 23 years personal experience of that). I guess I’m just being careful, because I’ve only had one snakebite validated as venomous by a vet, that we treated successfully with Vitamin C. In your situation Mark, I’d be giving the Vitamin C as first aid and then going for the vet and hopefully by the time you get there, the animal won’t need the anti-venine. It’s the best of both worlds really. 🙂

      • Mark Lawrence 10/06/2017, 7:22 pm Reply

        Good advice Jenny. Luckily for us our vet is only ten minutes away and they always look after us really well. That said, I’d be just as happy to only have to visit them for anything else non-snake related. 🙂

  6. Susannah 10/05/2017, 10:01 am Reply

    Yes great info thanks Jen – I have been a Pat Coleby advocate for years, even rang her on occasions, very generous knowledgable lady, always kept Vit C available for ANY emergency situation. Solnar reacted severely to what I think was a spider bite a couple years ago. Whole body swelled up in hives and edemas, and his face like an anaphylactic (?) shock reaction. This was an emergency situation and I probably should have called vet immediately. Injected 30 ml Vit C while I considered calling vet, but the swelling started reducing within half hour. Amazing. And yes followed up with another shot next day, and oral powder over the week.

    • jennyp 10/05/2017, 11:43 am Reply

      Bless her, she was very generous indeed – abrupt and didn’t suffer what she considered foolish things AT ALL… I have some hilarious Pat Coleby stories! I wonder if the vets would say that the swelling was going to go down anyway?

  7. Cassandra 10/04/2017, 7:01 am Reply

    Thank you for this Jenny. Yes Vit C is a very viable correction for snakebite according to a friend who treats her goat herd with it. Several months ago I got my 90 lb Rhodesian Ridgeback through a snakebite with charcoal, homeopathy, Vit C, and echinacea. No veterinary care. I had done research after taking my dog to snake aversion training and the trainer indicating that taking your dog to the vet was the thing to do and it would cost $2500 U.S. So I had done some preparation in case such ever happened, but would be good to be ready for the horses. too. Accounts I read indicated folks who had gotten their animals through snakebite with only charcoal, only homeopathy, my friend has done the Vit C with her goats, and echinacea is the original snake oil according to herbalist Matthew Woods. May this be a help.

    • jennyp 10/04/2017, 8:35 am Reply

      I’d never heard of Echinacea referred to as snake oil, Cassandra – thanks! I’m not sure the connotation is a good one though, since snake oil refers to those traveling salesmen selling cures for things that didn’t work. lol! I’ll have to go look it up. 🙂

  8. AnneMarie 10/03/2017, 8:40 pm Reply

    Wow! This is such a good informative article!
    I will copy it and keep it on my laptop so I can find it easily whenever (hopefully never) it would be necessary!
    I will also share as this is really useful information!
    Thank you very much!

    • jennyp 10/04/2017, 8:36 am Reply

      Do your practice AHEAD of time too! 🙂 I’m glad that you enjoyed it AnneMarie.

  9. theresa 10/03/2017, 11:55 am Reply

    What kind of snakes do you have in Australia? Does the vitamin c work on all varieties of poisonous snakes?

    • jennyp 10/04/2017, 8:40 am Reply

      Well the deadliest of all our snakes is apparently the tiger snake and in Pat Coleby’s extract PDF that I included in the article, she talked about saving the goat which had the highest venom of Tiger Snake the vet had ever seen and saving it with Vitamin C. Still, there are these concerns from vet research that says it doesn’t work – which is totally weird. I’m thinking that I personally will be listening to each animal individually as to what they need IN THIS CIRCUMSTANCE and making up my own mind then.

  10. Kristina 10/03/2017, 9:59 am Reply

    Very useful! Thank you Jenny

  11. Anthony Fysh 10/03/2017, 9:44 am Reply

    Hi Jenny,where would i buy the vitamin C from for shake bite. Cheers Tony

  12. Anthony Fysh 10/03/2017, 9:44 am Reply

    Hi Jenny,where would i buy the vitamin C from for shake bite. Cheers Tony

    • jennyp 10/04/2017, 8:41 am Reply

      Here in Australia I can get it from the produce store where I buy my horse feed. I did get one of the local vets to order some in for me once – I was a bit shocked at the time that they didn’t stock it.

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