Own a horse long enough and eventually you are likely to confront a medical emergency, from lacerations to colic to foaling difficulties, there are many emergencies that a horse owner may encounter. You must know how to recognize serious problems and respond promptly, taking appropriate action while awaiting the arrival of your emergency vet.
Many accidents can be prevented by taking the time to evaluate your horse’s environment and removing potential hazards. Mentally rehearse your emergency action plan. In an emergency, time is critical. Do not be concerned with overreacting or annoying your veterinarian or after hours vet. By acting quickly and promptly, you can minimise the consequences of an injury or illness.
Equine emergencies can be challenging for veterinary practitioners and emotionally charged for owners. There is also the inherent possibility of injury to the owner and veterinarian because of the sheer size of the animal and the “fight or flight” reflexes of an injured horse. Problems can be reduced by educating owners about emergency preparedness and first aid procedures. The most common types of equine emergencies are abdominal pain (colic), trauma, lacerations and acutely ill foals.
Preparation is vital when confronted with a medical emergency. No matter the situation you may face, mentally rehearse the steps you will take to avoid letting panic take control. Follow these guidelines to help you prepare for an equine emergency. Consult with your regular veterinarian regarding back up or a referring 24-hour vet in case you cannot reach your regular veterinarian quickly enough.
Know in advance the most direct route to an equine emergency vet in case you need to transport a horse.
Keep your emergency equine vet’s number in your phone, including how practitioners can be reached after hours.
Store the names and phone numbers of nearby friends and neighbours who can assist you in an emergency while you wait for your veterinarian.
Prepare a first aid kit and store in a clean, dry, and readily accessible place. Make sure that family members and other users know where the kit is. Also, keep a first aid kit in your horse trailer or towing vehicle and a pared down version to carry on trail.
First Aid Kit
First aid kits can be simple or elaborate. Here is a short list of essential items to have on hand:
* Cotton roll
* Cling wrap
* EVet wrap
* Gauze pads, in assorted sizes
* Sharps scissors
* Cup or container
* Rectal thermometer with string and clip attached
* Surgical scrub and antiseptic solution
* Latex gloves
* Saline solution
* Duct tape
* Zip ties
* Multipurpose pliers/handyman tool
* Epsom salt
* Fly repellent and ointment
* Prescription medications
Regarding prescriptions, you will need a Veterinary/Client/Patient Relationship; however, medications can often be dispensed to clients under the condition that they call the clinic first to discuss the situation prior to medicating the horse. These medications are only of value if you understand their benefits and limitations, and you are able to competently give them to your horse without masking the problem and giving the correct dosage.
Common Equine Emergencies
Horses tend to be a bit more accident prone than most animals, and although they are large and strong, they are susceptible to myriad ailments that arise with little warning. The horse owner should learn to recognize the most common maladies affecting the horse, and if you have owned horses for any length of time, you very likely may have seen most, if not all, of the following list. This list is not intended to be an exhaustive study of horse emergencies, but merely the most common problems encountered by emergency equine veterinarians around the country. Obviously, there will be regional differences that can affect this list, but each of these situations requires immediate veterinary attention, and the treatments are beyond the scope of the average horse owner’s experience.
Colic:This continues to be the number one cause of death in horses, and tops this list. The symptoms can range from a mild episode, where a horse is merely sluggish coming for food, to severe pain where the horse is covered in sweat and can no longer stand. Management issues, environmental influences, or individual horse problems cause the majority of colic cases. The causes are varied and sometimes difficult to pinpoint but the following can all cause colic: inadequate water intake (summer or winter) changes in diet, adverse weather, ingestion of unusual material (sand, bedding, grass clippings, plants, and grain overload), concurrent infection, changes in exercise or shipping, and other stresses. Poor dental conditions, internal tumours, and infestation with worms are common colic causes in the older horse.
Acute lameness: This is a rather broad category but we see it often and conditions in this category include nail punctures, hoof abscess, laminitis (founder), and even complete fractures.If your horse was fine yesterday, but dead lame today, do not delay in seeking professional help in diagnosing and treating the condition. Laminitis can almost be considered worthy of its own category because we see so much of it, but often it is an insidious process occurring days, even weeks after an inciting incident. A common form of laminitis seen in the older horse is often connected to the horse’s metabolism, which may take months to show up as sore feet.
Joint and tendon injury: Any trauma to a tendon or joint should be considered a medical emergency. Delay in aggressive and appropriate treatment can add months to the healing time.Infections readily set in because of the nature of tendon sheath and joint fluid, and they can be very difficult to treat. Closed traumas to tendons and ligaments and joints can occur in both performance horses, in stall/barn accidents, and in horses housed in open pastures. Application of ice and cold water is always a good idea, but do so only after consultation with your veterinarian.
Eye Trauma: Because of their prominent location, the equine eye is prone to injury. Corneal ulcers, eyelid lacerations, and uveitis are the conditions most frequently observed. Any time an eye is observed to be swollen or closed or has a discharge associated with it, you should consider it a medical emergency. Take an extra minute to observe you horse’s eyes during feeding time and be looking for an abnormal appearance.
Exertional myopathy/exhaustion: Also known as tying-up or rhabdomyolysis, this painful condition arises when a horse is pushed beyond its conditioning or training limits. The affected horse cannot seem to move, or will move with a stiff, short-stepping gait, does not want to eat and looks miserable. Often, their rump and back muscles are corded up and very tight, their gums are pale, and their heart rates are elevated. Medical treatment is required at once to prevent renal (kidney) problems, and very often these horses are hooked up to IV fluids overnight to treat the inevitable dehydration, and to flush toxins from the kidneys.
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