Naturally, horses are a bit injury prone: when they fall, they fall farther than a human does, and they land on weight that is much heavier than a person. If you own horses, it is possible that you may experience medical emergencies. So how can you be prepared?
Observe your horse for changes
This one can be a tough one, but if you know your horse well, it should be easier to identify when they aren’t looking or acting like their normal self.
Some signs of distress in horses are pawing at the ground, vocalizing, repeated head movements, flared nostrils, decreased appetite, etc.
Does your horse seem lethargic? Are they experiencing seizures, paralysis, or seem like they are in pain? These symptoms could indicate that it is time to take a closer look.
A closer look:
At this point, there are several at home tests you can do to assess your horse. Your vet will likely want to know your horse’s heart rate, respiratory rate, temperature, and their skin pliability. To test the skin pliability, pinch or fold the horse’s skin and let go- how quickly the skin snaps back into place can indicates whether your horse is dehydrated.
You can also test if your horse’s blood oxygen levels are normal by opening their mouth and pressing your thumb against their gum and releasing it. At first, the gum will likely be an off-white color, but it should quickly return to the color it was before your touched it.
While you’re looking, what color is the inside of their nostrils?
In case you’re not familiar, here is what these tests should look like on a healthy horse:
Respiratory rate: 12-20 breaths per minute.
Rectal temperature: 99.5-101.5 F
Gum re-coloration time: 2 seconds.
Skin pliability: immediate.
Any part of their body that secretes mucus (such as the nostrils) should be pink.
Be prepared before an emergency happens
- Keep your veterinarian’s number saved as a contact in your phone, including their after-hours number. Some recommend also having a backup vet saved in your phone, just in case yours is not available at the time of the emergency.
- Know the fastest emergency route to your local surgical center.
- Keep a copy of your horse’s medical records in case they may not be accessible after hours, during an emergency (this includes allergies and vaccinations).
- Keep a first aid kit in a place where it can be easily accessed.
- A good first aid kit should contain cotton rolls, contact bandages, cling wrap, gauze pads and wrap, adhesive wrap/tape, scissors, latex gloves, antiseptic solution, pliers, and some form of emergency splints.
- Delegate care roles among your friends or family to help you with the horse if there is an emergency, as it is important to avoid panicking during an actual emergency. Your horse will need you to remain calm, and you will need someone to help them remain calm.
- If you board your horse at a stable, make an identification card to hang in front of their stall, incase there is an emergency while you are absent. The card should include your name and contact information, the name and contact information of your horse’s veterinarian and how they can be reached after hours, a brief summary of medical history, and your veterinary insurance information if applicable.
Call sooner rather than later
If your horse is acting out of the ordinary, call your veterinarian before it escalates to an emergency. Even if your horse only seems somewhat unwell, notify your vet, as it can help him/her prepare for the possibility of an after-hours emergency and identify the problem before it worsens.
Medical emergencies are frightening, but they are manageable, especially if you are prepared. For more tips on how to keep your horse happy and healthy, subscribe to our blog.
American Association of Equine Practitioners. (2021). Guidelines for Equine Emergencies. AAEP. https://aaep.org/issue/guidelines-equine-emergencies
Eilerts, Jennie. (2019, May 31). Causes and Effects of Stress in Horses. Pro Earth Animal Health. https://proearthanimalhealth.com/causes-and-effects-of-stress-in-horses/