Toxin Topic: Snakebites and Horses

The long hot days of summer bring an increased snakebite risk to all animals, including horses.

No account yet? Register


Toxin Topic: Snakebites and Horses
Severe bites from more dangerous snake species or larger doses of venom can cause marked pain and swelling. | Photo: Eileen Hackett
The long hot days of summer bring an increased snakebite risk to all animals, including horses. The major venomous snakes-the pit vipers-in the United States include several species of rattlesnakes, copperheads, and water moccasins. Coral snakes, another poisonous snake found in the U.S., do not pose a risk to horses because of their small mouth size.

Pit vipers are so named because of the heat-detecting holes, or pits, on each side of their head that help the snake locate prey. Pit vipers can be differentiated from other snakes at a distance by their triangle-shaped heads and narrowing of the neck area just behind the head.

The major types of poisonous snakes in Kentucky are copperheads, cottonmouths, timber rattlesnakes, and pygmy rattlesnakes; there are also some reports of Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes. Risk of severe, fatal envenomation (poisoning from a venomous bite or sting) is highest with Diamondback rattlers, less with water moccasins, and lowest with copperheads.

Most snake bites to horses occur when the horse encounters a snake in the pasture or on the trail. Severe bites can occur if a horse steps on a snake and the snake releases all of its venom in one bite as it dies. Snake venom components vary tremendously by snake species, but most venoms contain substances that cause digestion and breakdown of tissues and blood vessels, impair blood clotting, and damage the heart. Some snakes’ venom also contain neurotoxins. Ultimately, many factors influence how severe a particular bite will be (i.e., snake species, size, age, recent feeding, number of bites, etc.). Some bites are “dry bites,” where little if any venom is injected

Create a free account with to view this content. is home to thousands of free articles about horse health care. In order to access some of our exclusive free content, you must be signed into

Start your free account today!

Already have an account?
and continue reading.


Written by:

Related Articles

Stay on top of the most recent Horse Health news with

FREE weekly newsletters from

Sponsored Content

Weekly Poll

sponsored by:

Has your veterinarian used SAA testing for your horse(s)?
92 votes · 92 answers

Readers’ Most Popular

Sign In

Don’t have an account? Register for a FREE account here.

Need to update your account?

You need to be logged in to fill out this form

Create a free account with!