Do Rattlesnake Bites Kill Cows?

Written by Jeremiah Wright
Published: April 6, 2022
© Rodolfo Ayala Plata/
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Rattlesnakes are commonly found throughout the United States of America, mainly in the continental part. They can be found in South and Central America, Mexico, and the Southwest of the United States as well. But how is this related to cows?

According to statistics, almost 100 million cattle live in the United States. This is 10% of the global cattle population, so it is clear why the rattlesnake, a venomous snake, is seen as a danger to this animal.

However, the real question is if rattlesnake bites kill cows. Do rattlesnakes have enough venom to kill a cow? Since there’s more to talk about than just venom power and quantity, keep on reading this educational article that we’ve prepared for you.

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What should you know about rattlesnakes?

Great Basin Rattlesnake - Crotalus oreganus lutosus
Rattlesnakes are commonly found throughout the United States of America, mainly in the continental part.

©Randy Bjorklund/

Rattlesnakes can be found in almost any habitat available in the continental United States; they’re not picky reptiles when it comes to adapting to habitats. This is what makes it so dangerous for cattle and other herding animals and horses. The venom of rattlesnakes makes them so dangerous, not the appearance of the snake or its rattles.

Studies conducted on Vipera ruselli (a viper just like the rattlesnake) discovered that an adult snake injects 45% of its entire venom gland into its prey in the first bite. The capacity of the venom gland is affected by the snake’s size and can hold up to 850 mg or even more. When a cow is bit by a large rattlesnake, it can be subject to as much as 425 mg of the rattlesnake’s venom.

The tiger rattlesnake, found in the mainland United States, has one of the highest venom toxicity among rattlesnakes, even though its venom yield is low. Quantity is important when it comes to cows being bitten by rattlesnakes.

How likely is it for rattlesnake venom to kill a cow?

Southern Pacific Rattlesnake
A rattlesnake bite is not guaranteed to kill a cow.

©Audrey Snider-Bell/

The effect of venom is based on the target’s weight. Cows are rarely injected with just enough venom to cause their death. Animals like this one are too large compared with snakes and their venom glands’ capacity. The rattlesnake bite is harmless if it’s not on the cow’s face and doesn’t cause an infection.

The amount of venom injected by a rattlesnake is often not enough to even kill a human. Statistics show that out of the almost 10,000 people bitten every year in the United States, only five are unfortunate enough to die. This is partly due to the fact that up to 20% of a rattlesnake’s bites can be dry bites.

A rattlesnake bite is not guaranteed to kill you. The chances of it killing a cow or an animal of a similar size are much lower.

The rattlesnake bites prey with a different type of venom. When it bites and injects venom into large animals or people seen as a threat, the rattlesnake will inject cytotoxin. This is a venom that attacks only cells. When it bites prey with the intent to kill and then eat it, the rattlesnake injects neurotoxin, which guarantees a kill and a meal.

Is venom the only thing to consider?

A rattlesnake bite is not the only thing that might cause the death of a cow. The location of the bite is also essential, especially when it comes to saving the animal. The quantity of venom might not be enough to kill the cow, but the development of an infection or the restriction of the animal’s airways could.

A rattlesnake will not bite a large animal with the intent to kill and eat it. It will do so in a defensive manner. This is why it releases cytotoxin instead of neurotoxin. Cytotoxin only affects the tissue surrounding the bite site. Neurotoxin target’s the prey’s nervous system, rendering it unable to act or, in some cases, move. 

Cytotoxin can lead to infection, swelling, and rotting of the flesh at the bite site. The cows that are bitten on the face or by the muzzle are also susceptible to suffocation. The area swells and restricts the airflow, making breathing impossible for the cow. 

Infections are deadly only when they’re unattended. The tissue at the bite site dies, turns necrotic, and increases the chances of systemic infection. This is why farmers must keep a close eye on their cattle, especially during the hot months of summer, when rattlesnakes are looking for shade.

How to combat the effects of the rattlesnake bite on cows?

Western Diamondback Rattlesnake (Crotalus atrox)
For a rattlesnake bite in a cow, you can use florfenicol, penicillin, ampicillin, oxytetracycline, or any broad-spectrum antibiotic.

©Alexander Wong/

The rattlesnake bite causes almost immediate swelling, followed by damage to the tissue at the bite site and possibly infection. These effects can be treated with common antibiotics, readily available in any medicine cabinet. For a rattlesnake bite in a cow, you can use florfenicol, penicillin, ampicillin, oxytetracycline, or any broad-spectrum antibiotic. Anti-inflammatory drugs are recommended for swelling and pain if you notice the bite early on. Usually, rattlesnake bites on cows are not noticed in the first crucial hours, an aspect that worsens the situation.

It is recommended to refer to your veterinarian and start treatment for the bitten cow. Depending on the age of the snakebite, there are different treatment options, such as steroids and opening up the bite site in case there’s necrotic tissue that needs to be taken care of.

Final thoughts!

Mojave rattlesnake close-up of rattle
The United States is home to 32 species of rattlesnakes.

©Rusty Dodson/

The United States is home to 32 species of rattlesnakes that break down into almost 85 subspecies. Arizona hosts 13 of the main species of rattlesnakes. This reptile is common in Northern Mexico and the Southwestern United States. It is clear that cows are likely to encounter rattlesnakes during their daily grazing. But this is a usual thing in the United States.

Humans and animals alike can cross paths with a rattlesnake and get bitten. We know to protect ourselves better, avoiding the rattler. Cows do so too, but they often get bitten too curious. The watchful farmer will always notice a rattlesnake bite upon the daily inspection of their cows and treat them accordingly.

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Rattlesnake Close Up
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About the Author

I hold seven years of professional experience in the content world, focusing on nature, and wildlife. Asides from writing, I enjoy surfing the internet and listening to music.

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