When Should You Call The Veterinarian?

As a horse owner, you will likely be faced with an emergency situation involving your horse at one time or another. Before that happens, talk to your veterinarian about developing a plan for handling emergency situations, and incorporate his/her advice. A plan will save you time in a real emergency, and provide guidelines for when you need to make that "911" call to your veterinarian.

As you plan, here are some points to keep in mind:

  • Keep your horse's vaccinations up-to-date. The risk of getting TETANUS through wound contamination, particularly with deep or puncture wounds is significant. Current tetanus immunization is critical to prevent this disease. (Refer to section on Vaccination.)
  • Post your veterinarian's name and telephone number in an obvious location.
  • When faced with any wound, remember: sometimes less is more when it comes to treating them. And cleanliness is paramount for a good outcome.
  • Act according to your comfort level.
    • Not everyone is comfortable with, or experienced in, dealing with injuries or sick animals. Go with your gut feeling: if you feel like you need expert veterinary advice, you probably do.
  • Stay safe. Don't risk your safety or that of others unnecessarily. Sometimes sedation will be necessary before the patient can be successfully treated.
  • Practice prevention!
    • Walk through the pasture and paddock and take a close look inside your horse's stall on a regular basis.Look for hazards such as places where a foot or head might become entrapped, exposed nails, old equipment, loose boards, etc.
    • Check at ground level and horse-height and everywhere in between.
    • Fences and gates require extra attention. This is where horses often like to "hang out." Check for loose wire or broken rails.
    • Foals need special consideration as they are more curious and usually flightier, a combination that can result in a greater potential for them to get into trouble. Make sure their environment is safe.
    • Decide if you are going to leave a halter on or off. If off, hang it close at hand for emergency use. If on, consider a leather one that might break more easily than nylon.

Develop some guidelines for you and your horse that you are comfortable with. To help get you started, here are some situations to think about as potential "911" situations:

  • These types of wounds may require veterinary attention:
    • Puncture wounds
    • Injuries involving the eye
    • Injuries involving joint/tendon or bone
    • Those that are grossly contaminated
    • Those missing tissue: skin, etc
    • Embedded foreign bodies, lsuch as wood or nails. The foreign body should not be removed until your veterinarian arrives
    • Those with spurting blood, those associated with uncontrolled hemorrhage, those that appear deep or are gaping and long, i.e. the edges of the wound are grossly spread
    • Those with accompanying systemic signs such as fever, weakness, abnormal breathing, sweating or shivering, pale mucus membranes and/or severe depression
    • When your horse is too agitated to permit examination and/or handling
    • When your horse has a persistent, high fever Remember: the normal range for an adult is 100°F (+/- 1°F) or 37.8°C (+/- 0.5°C)
  • If your horse exhibits severe/sudden weakness, abnormal breathing, sweating or shivering, pale mucus membranes and/or severe depression
  • Signs of colic: biting at flank/abdomen, rolling, getting up and down
  • There is an unwillingness to put any weight on a limb
  • The horse is down and unwilling – or unable – to get up
  • When you are not comfortable making a treatment decision or have a gut feeling that your veterinarian need to see your horse