Warning: I’ve had vets rant at me about this article, saying that it’s impossible – that if the Vitamin C seemed to work, it was because it was a “dry bite”, without venom. I stand by the article from my own experience – it was no dry bite that had a dog semi paralysed – and I stand by Pat Coleby’s work in this area too. Use your common sense folks. Use the Vitamin C as first aid while you wait for the vet.
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”. Me again: God bless ’em!
If you’re an American, then you might find this website about identifying good and bad snakes, useful.