Equine First Aid and Emergencies
May 03, 2010
Although it is the most basic form of health care, horse owners
should be aware that horses need first aid care just as much as
people do, if not more. There are many situations that a horse
owner might run into such as soft tissue injuries like lacerations
and puncture wounds, ophthalmic injuries, strains, sprains, other
acute lameness issues, colic, fever, depression, and dystocia or
Horse owners should be able to have the basic skills required to
take care of a horse during an emergency situation until a
veterinarian is available, such as dialing the phone to seek
professional help when needed.
"Probably the minimum competency skill level is comfort with
applying a bandage in case of a hemorrhaging lower extremity" said
Dr. Glennon Mays, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, "or
understanding how to encourage a painful, recumbent horse to stop
rolling and get up off the ground and walk around in a circle while
waiting for the veterinarian's arrival in the case of colic."
Cooperativeness on the part of the animal to accomplish routine
acts can actually be practiced under non-emergency situations in
order to succeed in time of crisis.
"This cooperativeness is remindful of school children practicing
a fire drill" said Mays. "If something is familiar, it is more
easily performed in a crisis situation. If a horse is accustomed to
having bandages applied to legs or being loaded in a trailer for no
obvious reason, then it won't seem quite so unusual a request
during times of stress or pain."
In case of emergency, there are a few things that horse owners
should have on-hand; especially emergency phone numbers that are
"In a tense moment, the pre-determined numbers can be dialed in
order of preference. In case the first choice is unavailable,
secondary or tertiary selections have already been made" said Mays.
"I also suggest having some bandage materials on hand. Beyond basic
leg wrapping techniques, other first aid supplies can vary
according to the qualifications of the owner of the horse and the
client-patient relationship with the veterinarian."
Of course, there will be times when it is absolutely necessary
that the horse owner calls a veterinarian for assistance. A
professional caregiver should be summoned when the horse's
caretaker feels uncomfortable or inadequate providing the type of
care that is necessary, or whenever an animal insurance company is
"Often professional care is provided more quickly when the
patient is transported rather than waiting for a busy veterinarian
to break away from a practice or hospital environment. However,
many vets solely provide ambulatory service and don't operate from
a clinic or hospital facility" said Mays. "Some patients requiring
emergency care cannot initially be transported, depending on the
experience level of the owner and one's ability to accurately
interpret the situation of the animal in danger. Another factor to
consider is the comparison of the facility where the horse located
and the facility a veterinarian may provide."
General anesthesia may be avoided by transporting a young horse
with a laceration to a veterinarian's facility, for example, when
the owner's facility is not equipped with an area for safe
restraint. Safety for the animal as well as the people providing
the care of the animal is of highest importance.
There are several emergencies that tend to happen frequently to
horses. One of the most common involves soft tissue injuries. Since
horses are "flight" rather than "fight" responders, punctured,
lacerated or avulsed soft tissues are ordinary reasons for seeking
"Another common emergency need is in response to engorgement due
to inadvertent duplication at feeding time or inconsistency in
feeding time. Introduction of new feed, hay or grazing sources can
create a need for emergency help at times" said Mays. "Because
horses are naturally inquisitive, eye injuries are another common
need for immediate assistance. Tearing excessively, squinting the
eyelids, unnatural desire to stay inside a shaded area when pasture
mates are out grazing are all indications of a possible eye
problem. When owners are examining their horse, it's often a good
practice to take a look at both sides of the animal no matter how
normal one side appears."
The inquisitive nature of horses can also create other emergency
care opportunities. Horses become entrapped in cattle guards, tree
forks, narrow chute spaces, and even empty trailers where the wind
has assisted in closing the gates of the trailer.
"From a veterinarian's point of view, it's very frustrating to
be invited to attend an animal situation that has already
progressed several days because the owner's decision to provide
therapy has proven a mistake" said Mays. "Please don't wait too
long and always listen to your conscience."
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