A Rattlesnake bit my baby's nose - finale

Beginning of this whole horrific episode here

While anxiously peeking out at Ebony in the loafing shed every so often, I baked an angel food cake, wiped off some windows, dusted, sorted laundry and cleaned out the magazine racks in the house. This prairie rattlesnake bite of his certainly was enough excitement to induce domestication in a feral woman ; thats real excitement. Waiting for the vet, clock ticking ever closer to 3:30,  I decided to get another bucket of cool not cold water, and some clean towel rags, and go take a closer look at him ~ the swelling was getting more pronounced as the heat of the day peaked. It wasnt just around his nostrils anymore ;  his lower jaw, around his eyes, and throat latch were puffing out now too. His breath still came in short puffs through the bloody discharge of his nostrils. Horses can only breathe through their nose, and the heat didnt help him at all.

Please get here soon, my mind kept repeating over and over, but I tried to keep my outside actions slow, calm, collected around Ebony. He shifted his feet in the shade, tail swatting his belly. I sprayed his belly with fly spray, right after I sponged his groin, chest and behind his elbows.  He tried to sigh, but it came out more like a groan, and he couldnt clear his sinuses by snorting out because most likely it hurt too much. Please get here soon, my mind repeated.

And then he did  - Dr. Randy Ward arrived, promptly at 3:30.  First time in a decade that I had a vet arrive at the time he said he would, and this wasnt even a scheduled appointment.  20+ years of vetting large animals, and he's there when he says he'll be.  I like this vet.

He swiftly swung out of his dual cab, and shook both Mr. Forestermans and my hand as he grabbed his bag. After reassuring him that the electric fence was off (really!) We all climbed between the wires and headed out to the shed. Ebony easily cooperated while I slipped his halter on his ever enlarging head, then hung on to the end of the lead. Turning to Dr. Randy I again repeated what I had relayed over the phone earlier ; he stands well for shots, farrier, and he's a good boy...

What happened next was an epiphany, and I want all of us to take note - the first thing Dr. Randy did before anything else, which made me, and now you, the readers realize, that although a prairie rattlesnake bite on a horse is serious, it is not gonna kill them as long as they can breathe. Because heres the truth - as long as a horse's airway is unobstructed and they are healthy, they will most likely heal. Im not poo poo 'ing the dangers of a prairie rattlesnake, but what I am saying is that horses are very remarkable healers within their species. After all, this is how the Medical community makes Anti-venom for humans  - injecting  horses over and over with snake venom gradually, so that they build antibodies to it.  And in turn it helps us humans who are bitten when we receive this anti-venom that the horses produce.  So why did I realize this at that moment?  Because the first thing Dr. Randy did was to grab a hold of Ebonys crest, and then his eyes narrowed, locking in with mine.  "See this here, this is what they call-" "a crest" I answered, quickly following with, "yes, hes fat. Im fat. we are both easy keepers and this has been an ongoing issue since the first day I bought him. We just look at food and it slaps itself on us. we dont grain, this is on all this SE Montana grass - what the heck is in this stuff anyway? I stopped to take a breath.  Just like humans, obesity is unhealthy for horses too, and is almost worse then a rattlesnake bite because of the long term dangers of lameness that kills.  Dr. Randy looked at me, the crinkle around his eyes getting more pronounced...and then he chuckled. At that point both of us were now on the same page.  Honesty is important. And I got to admit, even though this vet was brutally  honest, I like that. We are gonna get along just fine. 

Turning back to Ebony, he softly spoke more to Ebony then to me - "Looks like we're over the hump and the worse is over"... and then Dr. Randy did the most remarkable thing- as he put on a pair of rubber gloves, he began to explain everything he did as he went along, all the way down to telling me how many cc's he was giving for each medication. This is so appreciated for us who want to know how to help our animals - the sign of an excellent vet.  Of course my adrenaline was still high at this point and I was thinking more about the embarrassing fatty black Angus horse in the room so to speak, so I cant remember the detailed amounts, but lets just say that he gave enough for a tubby of a Reg.Morgan to get better soon.

Here is what he gave  - all injectables ~

Banamine - an anti-inflammatory for the swelling, and for the pain. Bute is not used routinely for bite pain as it reduces the white cell count, which is needed for fighting off infections - it wouldnt have killed him if I gave him the tablets I had on hand  - fern valley had a good suggestion that I liquify the tablets due to his inability to really chew, to ease his pain - but banamine is recommended. So banamine for pain that involves any broken skin or chance of infection, bute for colic, sore muscles etc.

DMSO - a solvent & cortiosteriod used for swelling, and immediate relief of pressure of the swelling, and must be used very carefully by the person administering it. When injected, it will give off an odor of "garlic gone really really bad" smell in their breath - its weird that way.  But it does react fast ; it is a carrier, so it can take the venom and quickly dilute it throughout the large body of a horse, weakening its toxicity. And this same carrying system when added with antibiotics will spread the antibiotics quickly throughout the body, aiding its healing.  Sometimes DMSO's potency though can lead to liver problems if the body doesnt flush it out right away - dehydration is a key factor in that. Lucky for us Baby didnt have dehydration going on - you can check for this by pinching their neck skin and watching the response time just as if they were humans,  Dr. Randy showed me as he was swabbing away for the next injections to follow.

Tetanus vaccine - a vaccine to prevent a tetanus infection -  snake bites are filthy - they eat rodents, and prairie rattlers dont brush their adult 1/2 long fangs. Even if horses are up to date on this it is still administered as a booster.

Penicillin - an antibiotic to prevent any bite/injection site bacterial infection and total infection throughout the body

and that was that. As we were talking, Ebony's eyes lost that wide eyed pain look and he started to relax his whole body, not just his bottom half. He always trusted humans for keeping him comfortable, and along with this trust came trust in injectable meds - he was already starting to feel better. Dr. Randy and I talked briefly of why he doesnt normally advocate anti-venom, and here are the key points ~

1. The expense.  One vial for a horse is approx. $1000. in our area.  Treatment for one horse can use many vials, as horses are biiiig animals. We may say our horses are our life, but are you able to come up with $5000.00 in an emergency on any given day in cash? Not many of us can, and so it is hard for a business such as a vet or medical clinic to carry anti-venom on hand because its so expensive to them - and they may not re-coop those expenses at all if they are not paid,  which in turn bankrupts their business, hurting the community, especially out here in cattle country.  And its expensive to make anti-venom (do you want to squeeze rattlesnakes for a living?) being that there is now only one company,  in the USA  -   and shipping it out to those faraway states while its still viable adds to its expense. 

2. Shelf life.  Anti-venom has an extreme short shelf life of not more then 36 months if refrigerated at all times- and it must be discarded properly after expiration. If you do not refrigerate then its half the time, which is just a year and half.  Considering that prairie rattlesnake season (our only poisonous snake in Montana) is not year round AND seasonal, that makes an impact. In fact, call your local hospital  and find out where the nearest anti-venom is stored - you would be surprised.  We have to drive to Billings in order to receive anti-venom - thats over 160 miles.  No other hospital or clinic in Southeast Montana can afford to keep this on hand for humans because of the expense of its use to small town communities.

3. Practicality.  An adult horse's weight factors in when bitten by a prairie rattlesnake - adult snakes know they cant eat a horse no matter how hungry they are, so they usually just give out a little venom to sting, enough for them to escape while a horse says "OW OW"...If a horse is bit on the muzzle, then its the suffocation due to the swelling that can kill them, not the venom.  If they are bit on the leg, understanding the weird dynamics of horse leg circulation explains how it takes a looong time for that circulation to reach the heart.  In other words, only if they are "mainlined" - bit in an artery - do they die instantly ; otherwise its damage control and controlling the symptoms.  You have time to get medical treatment if their nostrils have not closed up (closure requires immediate emergency action however). Prairie rattlesnake venom is painful, but rarely does it kills horses. With treating the symptoms, you are giving individual treatment to each effect of the venom and the bite, and so you can get very satisfactory results as if you actually used anti-venom.

And so the same goes for adult humans - unless we are struck in an artery (which you basically die in 10 minutes, give or take a few), chances are you will not die from a prairie rattlesnake bite - but you will have nasty symptoms. AS for humans, ALWAYS seek medical treatment, even if there was no venom (venom bites give off a harsh burning sensation right away), because prairie rattlesnakes do not brush their teeth after eating snacks of rodents, and carry bacteria that can make you sicker then the venom itself.  Anti-venom is usually administered to humans though, because we do not weigh 900 to 1200 lbs like an adult horse, which I think is kind of a good thing.  Although i did have a friend in Arkansas who was once bitten by a baby copperhead ; when he went in to the  hospital and said "Im ready for the anti-venom", they told him, "oh no, we watch you to see if you even need it", which was then followed by an interesting conversation that began with "well, HOW can you tell I need it?..." In the United States, anti-venom is not made with horses antibodies any more, but they have found better success with sheep.  So thank a sheep next time you see one ; their brethren is out donating blood for a good cause...

Prairie rattlesnake venom is a hemotoxin, Dr.Randy explained. In a bite, the venom works on the fascia, that stringy connective tissue that connects muscle to muscle, to the body (i'll wait while you go look at a raw steak, roast, or chicken - its that stringy, strong stuff that connects the meat to the meat inbetween) The venom breaks this down as it moves along, so that it can spread faster and further - the body reacts and it swells (in a human, you can also tell if it is a venom bite by the instant discoloring, like a bruise, that shows up at the site of the bite - so thats why taking an antihistamine such as Benadryl is a good idea for a bitten adult human on the way for medical treatment ; not only does it relax you, but it will help your body not respond so radically to the bite). It is this response to the swelling that could lead to what they call "sloughing" in horses - shedding of the layers of skin over the bite - if there was a lot of venom involved. For Ebonys case, this hasnt happen yet and may not - now we wait and watch for any infections, heart issues or liver issues - this process of waiting and watching can take up to several months.  There has been some light sensitivity issues the first few days in his vision, but that has cleared up. And as far as eating and drinking go, the more they can, the more the swelling/edema will go down...

After Dr. Randy Ward left (but not before we all had strawberries and edible angel food cake! yay!) Ebony stepped outside of his shed, took a loooong potty break, then proceeded to graze. A Southeastern Montana sunset glowed over him, sally the pony, and the surrounding pasture, highlighting life around us the only way it can.

He's going to live after all I laughed out loud...

I smiled at Mr. Foresterman. 
we like this new vet.

Thank you God!   yay!

So without further adieu,   heres our patient everyone !  

 (click on photos for enlargement)

initial prairie rattlesnake bite
8 days later

first day of bite

8 days later

Mr. Pretty Boy is Back, ladies!!!



"uhmmm, baby, now about those extra "love handles" you carry around..."




if she'll still let me - hooking up with Farm girl friday!



  1. oh, that is just the best ending to this saga there could be... not only a pretty (robust) boy feeling and looking so much better, but a great vet to rely on for future needs. a win-win (sorry, ebony, but you made a good connection for your mommy!)

  2. So relieved that all turned out well!!! Sounds like you have found yourself a great vet!!

  3. Whew, glad it turned out well! Thanks for all the info too!

  4. Do you mind if I cry over this? What a sweet, tender story....Thank you sooo much for sharing your experience with us...

  5. Yay! for an awsome vet and a successful recovery!

  6. Phew! Very interesting series of articles. We have diamondback rattles here in Southern California and vets do recommend that dogs get the anti-venom shot, but I don't know about horses...

  7. Whew HAPPY ENDING you had me thinking about what you are going through day and night. I am so glad it is over. I like your new vet. I could use a vet like that sometimes.
    This was such a well written incredible story. I am so sorry you had to go through this and Ebony oh my gosh poor thing. I am so happy you told the story you will help so many people. You are awesome. YEAH I can sleep now. Take care my friend. I want to go see if I have any strawberries now I seem to have a craving for them with angel food cake. B

  8. I love a happy ending. Great vet, and now he knows where you live. He will probably expect angel food cake next time too.... just sayin'...
    Thanks for all the info; I appreciate the time you took to share all this for our education.
    And just why have you been so remiss about sharing photos of this very handsome black boy? He's just as pretty as my black boy!

  9. So glad this turned out good in the end!

  10. Well, it's great that Ebony is ok and also you have a great vet! That had to be a harrowing experience!

  11. Yay for Ebony...I almost stepped on a rattler yesterday while jogging...scared the you know what out of me..I hate it when you don't see them until it is almost too late! Rattlesnakes are the only thing our Molliedog is afraid of, thank goodness...I think she can smell them in the air.

  12. So happy that all of this turned out so well. I bet you are thrilled by your new found vet. He sounds WONDERFUL! I really like Doctors, Dentists and Vets that explain what they are doing to me or my animals.
    My boys are wishing they had the love handles... they want to be out on the grass soooo bad!

  13. Well, I'm glad you finally got this finished up and with a happy ending. I was wearing my clicker out checking back to see how it all ended ;-).

    BTW, if your horse is that chubby, you would never have trouble finding a safe place to inject some Banamine ;-). I keep a vial on hand - good for darn near any emergency - horse, dog, sheep... and would have made that 3:30 wait a little easier on both of you. Your new vet sounds wonderful!

  14. Wow! What a roller coaster ride this must have been! I too start cleaning, cooking and fluffing when I'm worried or anxious about something. I'm so happy to hear that everything turned out ok.

    Thanks for the information you gave about snake bites... very interesting. Not something I'm familiar with because we don't have snakes to worry about here in the Northwest part of Washington state... well unless one is brought in from some place else.


  15. very glad that everything is A Ok with your boy! And these posts, while traumatic, have been very educational and interesting! Thanks for teaching us! I'm actually not quite so paranoid about getting bit now. I like snakes, but I admit to a fear of the rattlers. Not so much anymore though. Its more of a respect than a fear now.

  16. I'm glad all will be fine. I must say, he's a handsome (albeit chubby) feller. And a good vet is worth his weight in gold. Keep that .22 handy for snake patrol.

  17. So glad he's okay! What an ordeal.

  18. So Happy for you and that all ended well!!! The nose looks great...

  19. Just found your post....wow, how scary, especially since you are so far from a vet; I learned a lot reading about your experience- one of the barn horses last year got what we think was a snakebite just behind the cheek, all swollen and gross.....he eventually healed with some TLC but it is so scary when something goes wrong with a horse....I am so glad he came through ok, he is beautiful!!

  20. So glad he turned out okay! And nice to know ther is a good vet around too.

  21. I haven't been around for awhile, I missed so much. Thank goodness for a happy ending!!
    My first thought on part 1 was "call Randy", so glad you found him, he's a great vet.

  22. I'm so glad Ebony pulled through... what a scary experience. Here in the Coastal area of Texas, we of course have water moccasins that we have to be careful of. Their bite is much like the rattler and I pray daily that my horse and donkeys get spared. The other day I was also made aware of the highly venomous Coral snake in our are too! I actually had to chop it's head off and I was shaking like a leaf for 30 mins afterwards still. It was in my carport.... too close for comfort. The anti-venom for the US is reaching it's shelf life this year for all the anti-venom for Coral snake bites, and there has not been any more made because the one person that was making it died. No one else has been named as her predecessor. Scary huh? Even though it's rare to get bit by a Coral snake because they are so small, if you do get bit, don't expect any anti-venom. Instead you will be placed on life support for about a month until the venom leaches out of your system. If you survive that you should be fine. Or you might die too. I read this article in Popular Mechanics about it recently. I was flabber gasted and then the next week I ran across my snake. Boy was I scared. I only had on sandals so there could have been the chance of getting bit on a toe. Now I always walk outside with my closed toe shoes! You never know.

  23. I'm so glad that Ebony is all better. He really is a very pretty boy. And glad you have found a great new vet. Very interesting information on rattlesnake bites and horses, although, I hope I never have need of it. Knock on wood. It sounds like a stressful ordeal and I'm happy you all came through it with flying colors...and angel cake. Yum.

  24. I'm so glad that all went well...I knew it would!! I do appreciate all the detailed info that you gave in your posts...it could surely come in handy for me or anyone else in that situation in the future...thank you.

    I googling the type of rattlesnakes we have here, I found this site...they have an audio track that plays as the page loads...CREEPY!!! But, it's a good thing to listen to.


    Kiss Ebony's nose for me please~

  25. So glad Baby is ok!! My goodness girl, you've sure had a time. I've so missed your posts and your pictures!

  26. What an interesting and satisfying post this is. Your writing is wonderful and clear.
    I'm so glad your horse is OK.
    Wonderful photos.

  27. Wow! What a story! Thank God it ended well for everyone! I'm totally new to blogging not to mention yours. I came upon it quite by accident, actually a series of accidents. Did I say accident? I shoulda said chance. Just by chance. Because I'm the curious type, that clicks links all over the place, somehow, I ended up on A Collection of Madcap Escapades' blog. That's where I saw your's listed under her subscriptions. I must admit I enjoyed her stories very much despite the fact I know next to nothing about horses. (I woulda said I don't know anything, but after reading this post, that's not true anymore! Thank you - yay! haahaa :) Anyway...it was your name that grabbed my attention. As soon as your page (or am I supposed to call it your blog? idk??) opened and I saw the picture with the the feral definition below...I knew I was gonna like you! Having toured the Black Hills, Elkhorn Mtns., Shoshone National Forest, Custer National Forest, etc., etc., I absolutely loved it out west, and your picture "will it ever be this green again" was a sight for my sore eyes. (Jersey Girl here- born & raised) I felt such a connection to the environment. I can't explain it. It was especially strong in the area along Indian Chief Joseph Highway (I THINK I got that right...)and Beartooth Pass -I got my ass over the pass-oh, hell yes I did! All on the back of a horse too...of a different color, or shall I say anatomy...It was an iron horse, as in motorcycle. Put a lot of miles on the back of my husband's Harley Davidson Road King. Loved it so much, we've toured Wyoming, South Dakota and Big Sky, all three states, all three times! Thanks for sharin' your horse story. It was interesting and exciting. I love the way you tell a story! I'm sure I'll be a frequent guest to your world as long as you keep inviting me in via your blog (or your page...wait post...whats it called again? idk?)!
    Whatever it's called - I love it- Thank you - Yay! :)
    Haahaahaaa :)


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