Horse First Aid for Bites and Stings

A black widow spider whose poisonous bite can affect horses in several ways.
A black widow spider whose poisonous bite can affect horses in several ways. Janet Graham

Newsdate: Thursday, June 13, 2024 - 11:30 am
Location: GILROY, California

A bot fly which can be a source of parasites in horses.

A bot fly which can be a source of parasites in horses.

All bites and stings from any source such as other animals, snakes or insects such as spiders and scorpions cause varying degrees of painful swelling at the site of the bite or sting and may become infected.
© 2015 by Janet Graham

Horses not only bite each other, but they also suffer bites by other animals including dogs, cats, wild life animals such as skunks, and snakes. Since bites tend to become infected, prompt first aid treatment combined with an antibiotic is necessary. Always make sure your horse is up-to-date with tetanus shots since tetanus is a possibility whenever an animal bite occurs.

If your horse receives a deep bite from another horse or any animal, call your veterinarian as soon as possible. All bites are heavily contaminated puncture wounds and the possibility of rabies should be kept in mind if your horse is bitten by a wild animal.

Tap water has a very low bacterial count and causes less tissue irritation than sterile or distilled water. A regular garden hose with a pressure nozzle works well for the initial lavage.

A plastic spray bottle, a bulb syringe, or a home Water-Pik unit, typically used by people for cleaning teeth, works well for the application of the Betadine or Novalsan solution once the bite wound has been lavaged with water.

Your veterinarian may recommend antibiotics to prevent infection and a tetanus shot if your horse hasn't been vaccinated within the past six months.

First aid for horse with snake bites

Poisonous and non-poisonous snakes often live in areas where horses are kept and ridden. Most bites occur on the nose of the horse, but horses may receive bites on the legs or other parts of the body. Bites by non-poisonous snakes seldom cause swelling or pain.

Bites by rattlesnakes, moccasins, copperheads and coral snakes cause tissue swelling and pain at the site of the bite. In severe cases when the horse is bitten on the nose, the entire head, including the eyelids and ears, may become swollen leading to nasal obstruction and difficulty in breathing.

A snake bite is usually identified by the presence of teeth marks in the shape of a horseshoe in the case of nonpoisonous snakes, and fang marks or two puncture wounds in the skin when bitten by a poisonous snake.

Signs and symptoms of snake bite depend on the size of the snake, the species, the location of the bite and the amount of toxin injected by the snake. Fortunately, because of the size of the horse, poison snake bites are rarely fatal, although the horse may become weak and depressed with signs of respiratory failure or cardiac problems.

In the case of a bite by a nonpoisonous snake, first aid treatment begins with restraining the horse and cleansing and treating the wound as you would any animal bite.

If the horse has been bitten by a poisonous snake, call your veterinarian immediately and take the following steps:

  1. Restrain the horse and keep it as quiet as possible to prevent further spread of the venom.
  2. If the bite is on the leg, apply a tourniquet or constricting bandage such as a strip of cloth several inches above the bite. Be sure to loosen the bandage every hour for five minutes to maintain some blood flow.  In checking for proper constriction, you should be able to slip a finger beneath the bandage.
  3. Apply cold water packs to the site of the bite at 15 minute intervals while waiting for the veterinarian unless directed otherwise.  Ice packs should not be used because of possible tissue damage.
  4. Do not attempt to irrigate or treat the wound before the horse is sedated because of the possibility of upsetting the horse and increasing absorption of venom.
  5. Do not attempt to incise the fang marks, apply suction, or suck out the venom.  To do so, may cause the horse to panic and you may absorb the venom if you attempt to suck it out.
  6. Your veterinarian may recommend antivenin, corticosteroids, antibiotics, and tetanus prophylaxis along with thorough cleansing and care of the snake bite.

First aid for horse with insect, spider, centipede and scorpion stings

The stings of insects, spiders and scorpions cause varying degrees of painful swelling at the site of the sting.

In cases of a large number of stings, a horse may go into shock as the result of absorbed toxins, and, rarely, anaphylactic shock can occur if the horse has been exposed to the same toxins in the past. If you see the symptoms of your horse going into shock, call your veterinarian immediately.

For first aid treatment of stings, first identify the creature that stung the horse. Stings of bees, wasps, yellow jackets and ants all cause painful swelling at the site of the sting.

The bee is the only insect that leaves an embedded stinger behind. In this case, remove the stinger with tweezers or scrape a credit card across it to separate it from the skin.

Stings of black widow, Missouri brown spiders and tarantulas can cause chills, fever and labored breathing after the initial sharp pain of the sting. Your veterinarian may recommend the antibiotic Dapsone for treatment of brown spider bites. An antivenin is available for treatment of black widow spider bites.

Stings of centipedes and scorpions cause local reaction and sometimes illness, and tend to heal very slowly.

Once you have identified the type of sting and removed the stinger, if a bee sting, make a paste of baking soda and water and apply it to the site of the sting. If the swelling is significant or if the horse reacts as though in pain, ice packs may be used to help relieve swelling and pain.

After use of the baking soda paste and ice packs, application of a calamine lotion or Cortaid will help relieve any itching or skin discomfort.

About the Author

Flossie Sellers

Author picture

As an animal lover since childhood, Flossie was delighted when Mark, the CEO and developer of EquiMed asked her to join his team of contributors.

She enrolled in My Horse University at Michigan State and completed a number of courses in everything related to horse health, nutrition, diseases and conditions, medications, hoof and dental care, barn safety, and first aid.

Staying up-to-date on the latest developments in horse care and equine health is now a habit, and she enjoys sharing a wealth of information with horse owners everywhere.