As the warm days of summer begin to really heat up, so does the temperament of the season’s stingers and biters.  These testy creatures slither, fly, crawl or buzz around us much of the summer, and we invariably give them much if any thought, unless we’ve been stung or bitten of course!

While most cause little harm to the general population of humans and horses, others are capable of producing serious lesions or may even trigger severe allergic reactions.  Let’s take a look at our most common stingers and biters – bees, wasps, hornets, fire ants, spiders, and venomous snakes.

Social Stingers

Whether justified or not, social hymenoptera such as bees, wasps, hornets and fire ants, will vigorously attack in defense of their nests.  The instant burning sensation from a sting is the insects’ foremost weapon in driving foreseen enemies away from their nest.

In most sting scenarios, pain and inflammation is primarily limited to a small area around the sting site, though dramatic swelling might occur should your horse receive a sting around the muzzle or eyes.   Depending on the horse and how many stings he received, an allergic reaction could be slight to very serious.

In general, horses rarely exhibit serious reactions to single insect stings.   In fact, very often you will only learn about the fact that your horse has been stung when you stumble upon the small soft swelling during a grooming session.

Should your horse exhibit excessive swelling, irritability, pain and hives he is potentially reacting badly to the insect venom, explains Dr. Nancy S. Loving DVM, of Boulder, Colorado.  Hives indicate that the horse has developed an allergic response.  Usually this condition is transient, but the presence of hives often precedes a more generalized allergic response that could include swelling and occlusion of the airways.

Treating Stings

Of all the summer stingers, bees are the only ones with barbs on their stingers.  If you find a bee’s stinger left protruding from your horse’s hide, gently remove the stinger, making an effort not to squeeze the venom sac, which would inadvertently inject more venom into your horse.  If removal of the stinger can not be easily or safely done, it’s best to have your veterinarian attend to the problem.

 For any sting, whether it results from a fire ant, bee, wasp, or hornet, applying an ice pack to the sting site for ten to fifteen minutes will cool down the painful burning sensation plus will impede further swelling.  A dab of Icthammol, or a baking soda poultice might also be soothing and will act as a drawing agent to pull out the inflammation.

Multiple stings and single stings accompanied with hives or single stings that involve the head will require extra attention.  Monitor your horse closely!  Anytime that there is swelling in the head area it is essential that you be alert for general signs of discomfort or trouble breathing.  Usually it’s best to arrange veterinary evaluation and treatment rather than wait until a more serious issue develops.

Sneaky Spiders

A bite from a Black Widow or Brown Recluse spider, though not a life threatening problem for your horse, is capable of creating a difficult lesion to heal.  A typical reaction to a spider bite creates local inflammation and sloughing of affected skin and soft tissue, says Loving. Although not generally life-threatening, horses occasionally will develop mild to moderate systemic symptoms, such as fever and depression.

The bite should be treated as any wound, with careful attention dedicated to avoid infection.  Your veterinarian will remove any necrotic tissue, then will minimize further inflammation with anti-inflammatory medications, plus administer a Tetanus Toxoid booster.  Depending on the extent or seriousness of the bite wound, your vet may also put your horse on systemic antibiotics.

Slithering Snakes

Poisonous snakes are divided into two categories  the elapine, such as the Coral snake and the pit vipers, which include the Copperhead and Cottonmouth (Water Moccasin), along with 13 species of Rattlesnake.

In certain parts of the country snakebite in horses may be a more common occurrence than in other areas.  However, snakebites in veterinary practice seem fewer in number than one might actually expect, considering the numbers of snakes and potential encounters.

More often than not, a horse is bitten while out grazing in the pasture rather than out on a trail ride.  Whether out of curiosity or by accident most bites occur on the horse’s muzzle or face.

While a sizable number of viper snakebites don’t actually result in the injection of venom, they are still quite serious.  Contact your veterinarian immediately as it is important to reduce the effects of deadly Clostridia bacteria that are injected along with the bite, says Dr. Loving.

Minimizing tissue destruction is based on the principles of wound care.  Your vet will clean the wound thoroughly, and administer an appropriate antibiotic treatment along with anti-inflammatory medications to minimize swelling and edema.  If the bite is on the muzzle or face, your vet will probably also use a scalpel to open the wound so that it won’t swell shut.  Leaving such a wound open to the air will help reduce the proliferation of anaerobic bacteria.  Just as in spider bites, the use of a Tetanus Toxoid booster and systemic antibiotics will reduce the chance of infections

Depending on the size and species of the snake, as well as the size of the horse, and the location of the bite, prognosis of a complete recovery may range anywhere from poor to very good.

Preventing Stings and Bites

If you notice a troop of insects flying back and forth from a certain location, stay clear of the area until you can safely check for a nest.  Set aside time to fully explore your property.  Carefully check for nests around barns, sheds, and horse trailers.  Personally taking care of nest removal yourself will depend on the size of the nest, where it’s located, and whether or not you are allergic to wasp or bee venom.

While wild bees usually build their nests in hollowed out logs or trees in wooded areas, wasps and hornets will often construct their paper nests right under our noses, or at least close to it!  They prefer the open eves of barns and sheds, as well as inside horse trailers.

Subterranean nests are much more difficult to find and destroy.  Some cantankerous wasps, like the Yellowjacket, will construct their underground nests, not only in open pastures and hay fields, but may also burrow deep inside your stack of barn-stored hay, or inside open-ended pipe fence panels.  Due to their out of sight feature, these nests are often difficult to find.  Once found, the inaccessibility of many of these underground nests makes them very hard to destroy.

On the other hand, fire ant colonies are by and large quite easy to locate.  This is due to the domed effect of an ant colony’s excavated soil.  Contact your local agricultural agent to determine your best line of attack in controlling fire ant colonies.

Spiders are sneaky little beasts, so your best line of defense is to keep your barn clean.  This means, eliminate all spider nests.  Most spiders build their webs in – out of the way – areas such as high above in the barn rafters or tucked back in dark corners.

Though it’s impossible to prevent all snakebites, you can reduce the odds, by keeping a clean barn.  Spilled feed invites rats and mice into your barn, which in turn will attract snakes.

Just the fact that you and your horse spend so much time enjoying the great outdoors puts the two of you at a real risk of getting stung or bit.  The first line of defense is, be observant.

Contributed By: Mirror KB Ranch