It’s relatively easy to spot most equine emergencies or ones that may require an urgent response. Unfortunately, some emergency situations are less obvious. Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital near Lexington, Kentucky, offers these tips that can help you be prepared and react properly to equine emergencies.

One of the most essential factors in the outcome of any equine emergency is the time it takes for the problem to be recognized and appropriate treatment to begin. Regardless of cause or location, the longer a disease or ailment goes unrecognized or untreated, the worse the prognosis becomes and the more expensive it becomes to treat.

The physiologic response to trauma, while beneficial in the short term, can cause problems if not resolved. Often secondary bacterial infection complicates the resolution of the primary problem.

Allowing a problem to become chronic is directly correlated to an increased expense of treatment and inversely correlated to a favorable outcome. Therefore, it is no surprise that the first, and arguably the most important, step in proper care for a horse is to have a relationship with an equine veterinarian. These individuals are available to aid owners in determining what problems need immediate attention and/or referral to a hospital facility while also providing essential recommendations on nutrition, husbandry, and preventative health that will reduce the risk of future emergencies.

The second step is for owners to have a general response plan for emergency situations as stress and excitement can override typical cognitive responses. The final step is to know where an equine hospital is located and the distance or time it will take to transport a horse there. When assessing an emergency, owners should remember to remain calm, stay safe, gather information, and supply that information to the veterinarian.

Information that will help your veterinarian evaluate the situation over the phone includes facts such as your horse’s age, gender, and breed; vital signs such as temperature, pulse, respiration, the color of the gums, if possible to obtain safely, and the duration of the problem.

A normal adult horse should have a temperature between 99.5 and 101.5°F, a pulse or heart rate of 28-44 beats per minute, respiration rate of 12-16 breaths per minute, and a light pink color to the gums, although this can be variable.

Horses, like people, have differing vital signs, so it is important for owners to establish what is normal for their horse before an emergency arises. It also is imperative for owners to observe their horse’s normal behavior as horses have unpredictable pain thresholds and sometimes minor changes in behavior can indicate a problem.

Regardless of the type of emergency, most animals should be confined in a clean, dry stall in order to limit their movement. Owners should also avoid administrating non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as bute or banamine as these drugs may alter your veterinarian’s ability to evaluate your horse.

There are general categories of emergencies that will briefly be discussed.

Musculoskeletal emergencies are common and include lacerations, penetrating foreign bodies, and lameness.

Lacerations that are completely through the skin are often more contaminated than you might suspect, may involve important structures such as tendons, ligaments, or joints, and warrant veterinary intervention. The area may be cleaned with tap water and covered with a clean bandage or leg wrap. Applying topical medications are usually unnecessary. If significant hemorrhage or bleeding occurs, the wound should be wrapped snuggly with an absorbent dressing over the wound.

Penetrating foreign bodies either in the hooves or elsewhere are unsightly, but should be left in place to allow your veterinarian to identify what anatomic structures are involved.

Lameness can be caused by many things. A veterinarian should evaluate any lameness that causes the horse to be non-weight-bearing on that limb. The horse could have a simple abscess, but other, more serious injuries such as fractures or infected joints often result in the same clinical signs.

Colic, a generic term for abdominal pain, is common and often resolves with veterinary care at the farm. In handling the painful colicky horse it is not necessary to administer mineral oil by mouth or prevent the horse from rolling by continuous walking as either activity could result in injury to the horse owner. Instead, the animal should be placed in an area where they will not injure themselves or become cast (stuck) against a stall or fence and the veterinarian contacted.

Ophthalmic (eye) problems are always a veterinary emergency and often present as tearing, squinting, discharge, swelling, or light sensitivity. The eye is a delicate organ and attempts at treatment may result in irreversible damage and should be limited without veterinary instruction.

Choke can be scary for horse owners. If food or water is observed coming out of your horse’s nostrils, it could be a sign of esophageal obstruction (choke) or dysphagia (problems swallowing). Remove food and water and contact your veterinarian immediately.

Epistaxis (bleeding from the nostrils), ataxia (uncoordinated movements), or inability to stand are all emergencies that also require veterinary attention and all can be caused by a variety of problems.

An equine emergency can be a stressful ordeal for both the horse owner as well as the horse involved. Concise communication of pertinent information and vital signs to your veterinarian will allow him or her to rapidly evaluate the situation and give further instruction until arrival. If horse owners are adequately prepared, they can maximize the probability that their horse will have a positive outcome facilitated by rapid recognition, prompt action, and veterinary intervention.

By Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital