Elapid snake envenomation in horses: 52 cases (2006-2016).Equine Vet J. 2018 Mar; 50(2):196-201.EV
Snake envenomation is a cause of morbidity and mortality in domestic animals worldwide. The clinical features of crotalid snake (pit viper) envenomation are widely reported and well described in horses but elapid snake envenomation is poorly characterised.
To describe the presentation, clinical and laboratory findings, treatment and outcome of horses with a diagnosis of elapid snake envenomation in Australia.
Retrospective case series.
Medical records of horses with a diagnosis of elapid snake envenomation (2006-2016) at several university and private veterinary practices were reviewed. Inclusion criteria comprised one or more of the following: 1) observed snakebite, 2) positive snake venom detection kit (SVDK) result, 3) appropriate clinical response to treatment with antivenom or 4) supportive post-mortem findings.
Fifty-two cases met the inclusion criteria. Most cases (94%) demonstrated clinical signs of neurotoxicity, characterised by generalised neuromuscular weakness. Associated neurologic signs included staggering gait, muscle fasciculations, recumbency, mydriasis, ptosis and tongue paresis. Concurrent clinically important conditions included rhabdomyolysis (50%) and haemolysis (19%). Of 18 urine samples evaluated with a SVDK, only three (17%) were positive. Overall survival was favourable (86%) among 49 horses who received antivenom. Eighteen surviving horses (43%) required more than one vial of antivenom.
Possible cases within the searchable database were not included if horses died acutely or responded to symptomatic treatment without receiving antivenom.
Elapid snake envenomation is primarily a syndrome of neuromuscular weakness. Supportive anamnesis or an obvious bite site is rarely encountered. In endemic areas, this diagnosis should be considered for horses with generalised neuromuscular weakness, altered mentation, rhabdomyolysis and/or haemolysis; especially during spring and summer months. Diagnostic suspicion is best confirmed by response to treatment with antivenom.