Below is helpful information about caring for your horse in the event of an emergency.
Also, routine vaccination guidelines, descriptions, and schedules.
Click on the topic heading to read the information.
- After surgery, confine the horse to a clean stall or small lot for the next day and observe him closely for excessive bleeding or the presence or tissue prolapsing from the incision site. If either occurs, call us immediately. After the first day, the horse should then be turned out for free choice exercise as much as possible.
- A slight amount of occasional drainage from the incision sites is normal, as is swelling of the prepuce area. If the swelling exceeds the size of an orange, this usually indicates that the horse is not receiving enough exercise. Swelling over the incision is not usually normal and may indicate infection or closure of the incision, which does not allow drainage. EXERCISE IS IMPERATIVE TO PREVENT THIS TYPE OF SWELLING.
- FORCED exercise is necessary as postoperative swelling and pain limits the horse’s willingness to move. If it becomes necessary, ride, lunge or by other means forcibly exercise the horse 15 to 20 minutes twice daily.
- If your horse exhibits excessive swelling, soreness, depression or lack of appetite, take his temperature and call us immediately if his temperature is above 102.0 degrees F. (A temperature in this range may indicate infection.)
- At the time of surgery, your horse should be given a “booster” tetanus immunization. After surgery, antibiotics are not usually needed unless prescribed by the surgeon or unless complications arise.
- Healing should be completed in 14 to 21 days. If necessary, fly repellent ointment may be applied around the incision (not directly to the incision). There are no sutures that require removal.
- Your recently gelded stallion may still be capable of impregnating mares for several days after castration, due to retained spermatozoa in the ducts leading to the penis. Therefore, it is best to separate recently gelded horses from mares for at least 30 days.
If you have owned a horse for a period of time, chances are you have or will encounter a situation in which veterinarian attention is necessary. When this time comes, you must be able to assess the situation and determine if it is an emergency, or can the situation wait for a scheduled visit from your veterinarian. To determine if the situation truly is an emergency, it is first important to know what is normal for your horse. The following lists the normal vital signs for an adult horse at rest.
||99.0-101.5 °F (100.5 +/-)
||24-48 beats per minute (average 36)
||8-20 breaths per minute (average 12)
|Mucus Membrane Color:
|Capillary Refill Time:
||< 2 seconds
It is a good practice to check your horse’s vital signs regularly so that you can quickly recognize when something is abnormal and react to the situation in the appropriate manner. If you do encounter an emergency situation gather the following information before you call the veterinarian. Vital signs such as temperature, pulse, respiration rate, mucus membrane color and capillary refill time, will inform the veterinarian on the seriousness of the injury or illness. Be prepared to list specific details such as the location and nature of the injury, the horse’s attitude (agitated/depressed), the time that the injury has occurred, and if the horse is lame and the degree of lameness.
There are several situations that are true emergencies and require immediate veterinary attention. Below is a list of the most common emergencies, but of course the list is not inclusive. Injury with profuse bleeding; Obvious or Suspected Fractures; Cut that requires sutures; Nail in the Hoof; Sudden Lameness; Respiratory distress; Choke; Seizures; Tying Up; Eye Injury; Colic; Allergic Reaction
Due to the horse’s natural instinct to flee from scary situations, they tend to run into (or through) sharp objects such as fences, tree branches, and metal doors. These injuries tend to bleed profusely. The good news is that horse’s can loose up to 10 liters of blood before any major circulatory damage is done. If you do encounter an injury that is bleeding profusely, you should take certain steps as you are waiting for the veterinarian to arrive. First apply pressure to the wound with a clean dressing to slow down the bleeding. The dressing may be secured in place with a bandage if possible. The bandage should be secured tightly enough to slow down the bleeding, however be sure that it is not too tight and cuts off the circulation. The use of a tourniquet is not recommended because these often do more damage than good. If the wound is severely dirty, first gently rinse the wound with cold water. Do not use too much water pressure or scrub the wound, because it may cause the wound to bleed more. If there is a chance that the wound can be sutured, it is best to do as little as possible to the injury before the veterinarian arrives. Do not apply any medication, disinfectant or ointment to such a wound. These materials may cause tissue damage that can interfere with suturing and the healing process. In such cases, the less that is done to these injuries before the veterinarian arrives the better.
If you suspect that your horse has a fractured limb it is very important to call the veterinarian immediately. Report the horse’s vital signs to the veterinarian. Often times these horses will go into shock due to the pain and immediate action is critical for the life of the animal. Attempt to keep the horse calm and do not administer any medication unless directed by a veterinarian. Certain tranquilizers can lower the blood pressure of the animal and cause them to go into circulatory distress. The injured limb should be stabilized to prevent further injury. A splint can be made out of PVC pipe that is split lengthwise. It is important to pad the injury well before applying the splint. A temporary splint can be made out of a pillow and several rolls of elastikon tape, Vet-wrap, or duct tape. If the horse needs to be transported it is important to protect them during the hauling procedure. If the injury is on a front limb, it is best to haul the horse backwards, so that if a sudden stop is to be made, the horse will be putting more pressure on his hind limbs rather that the injured limb. It is also important to wrap the uninjured limbs to give the horse extra support to the remaining three legs. Unfortunately horses were not designed to distribute their weight on less than four limbs. Therefore, with a severe injury such as a fracture, often times the supporting limb may experience a bowed tendon due to the excessive weight bearing.
Due to the large, protruding eye on the side of the head, eye injuries are common in horses. The most common injuries include foreign bodies (gravel, dirt, twig, hay, insects) in the eye tissue, corneal ulcers, conjunctivitis, and bruised eyelid. If you notice signs such as excessive blinking, tearing, discharging, swelling or reddening or a blue cloudiness to the cornea, call the veterinarian immediately. Eye injuries are very treatable if they are acted upon quickly. However, if they are left untreated, small problems can turn into huge problems and blindness may result. Do not apply anything to the eye without directions from veterinarian.
If you have ever witnessed a horse that has an obstruction in its throat, it is a dramatic situation that you will never forget. Choke is defined as an obstruction in the esophagus and can be caused by a horse that eats too quickly or does not chew properly. Also pelleted grain or unsoaked beet pulp can cause choke because these items expand when they are moistened. The signs of a horse that is experiencing choke included large amounts of saliva and food particles discharging form the nostrils. The horse cannot eat and may show signs of pain such as pawing, coughing and panicking. As long as the obstruction is only in the esophagus, the horse is not in grave danger, however choke is an emergency and should be relieved as soon as possible. Aspiration pneumonia is a complication from choke because the horse can inhale food particles that it is coughing up. As you wait for the veterinarian, remove all food sources. Warm water can be offered to the horse if it would like to drink. You can palpate the left side of the horse’s neck for an abnormal lump in the esophagus. If you feel a lump you can apply a warm compress to the lump to aid in relieving the choke.
A horse that suddenly experiences extreme muscle cramping and pain is most likely tying up. Tying up is a common name for a condition known as exercise related muscle degeneration. Clinical signs of tying up include a sudden reluctance or inability to move and the muscles (especially the hindquarters) become hard and tense. The horse may experience excessive sweating, resting heart rate over 60 beats per minute, and resting respiratory rate over 30 breaths per minute. If you suspect your horse is tying up, immediately dismount, stop working the horse, keep the horse as still as possible, and call your veterinarian. Do not administer any medication unless directed by your veterinarian. If the episode is acted up quickly, most horses recover fully, however the urine may be discolored for the first 48 hours. If the urine is very dark in color, this indicates kidney damage and the horse should have a follow up visit with the veterinarian.
One of the most common emergencies that we encounter are colics. Colic is a term to describe any abdominal pain in a horse. There are many causes of colic and they fall under three main categories. The first category is due to intestinal dysfunction such as increased gas production, impaction, smooth muscle spasms and paralysis of gut motility. A second category is due to intestinal accidents such as displacements, torsions, and hernias. The final category includes enteritis and ulceration of gut, which may due to inflammation, infection or lesions. Signs of colic can vary and may include looking at the flank, pawing, kicking or biting at sides, stretching out to urination, yet not voiding, rolling, decreased gut sounds, increased heart rate and lack of defecation. If you suspect your horse is experiencing colic, first remove all food sources from the stall and call your veterinarian immediately. As you are waiting for the veterinarian to arrive, monitor vital signs such as temperature, pulse and respiratory rate. The horse should be watched closely and keep him calm and comfortable. It is alright for the horse to lie down, however it should not be allowed to roll.
Important phone numbers, veterinarian, horse ambulance and farrier. Thermometer; Saline Solution to rinse eyes; Vet Wrap; Gauze; Cotton Wraps; Wound ointment; Scissors; Electrolytes; Dilute Iodine solution; Hoof pick; Twitch; Ophthalmic ointment; Latex gloves; Syringes; Epsom Salts; Duct Tape
It is also a good idea to keep some medication on hand. Do not administer any medication with out the direction of a veterinarian. Phenylbutazone and banamine are both non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents and aid in controlling inflammation and pain.
- RHINO/FLU (Rhinopneumonitis/Influenza): This vaccination combats respiratory diseases and is recommended 1 to 6 times per year depending on the horse’s lifestyle. Influenza is the most common cause of respiratory disease in the horse. Yearly may be enough for the backyard horse that never leaves home. Breeding barns may be advised to vaccinate every 2-3 months to protect mares. Show and boarded horses, which come into contact with new or a high number of horses may also be advised to vaccinate more frequently. Speak to your veterinarian about your horse’s needs.
- TETANUS: This is a neurological disease. Horses should initially receive 2 doses over a 3 to 4 week interval, then annually. This is an important vaccination in preventative care and no horse should be left unprotected. Tetanus is generally fatal. The efficacy of this vaccine is very high.
- POTOMAC HORSE FEVER: PHF moved into our region in 1988. Symptoms include fever, diarrhea, founder and occasionally death. Believed to be transmitted by mayflies and seen in the summer months, it is best to vaccinate in the spring. Initially horses should receive two doses 3-4 weeks apart then annually.
- RABIES: Rabies is a neurological and invariably fatal disease. Horses suffer from the “dummy” form of rabies. Symptoms show first as colic and progress to neurological. With a surge of rabies making it’s way across the country we recommend immunizing all horses, dogs and cats.
- WEST NILE: West Nile is prevalent in our area. Spread by mosquitoes, this virus causes swelling of the brain and spinal cord. Affected horses can suffer muscle weakness, partial paralysis, fever, convulsions, coma and death. We strongly recommend vaccinating for this disease. Initially 2 doses are given 3-4 weeks apart then annually. A fall booster may be recommended by Dr. Abraham.
- EQUINE ENCEPHALOMYELITIS (Sleeping Sickness): Similar to West Nile and transmitted by mosquitoes, Equine Encephalomyelitis attacks the brain and central nervous system. Afflicted horses may lose their appetite, display excitable behavior, and walk blindly into objects. There are three strains of the virus. Eastern (EEE) kills 75-100% of infected horses and is the most deadly. Western (WEE) is less severe and more common. Venezuelan (VEE) is recommended for horses in states bordering Mexico. Vaccinate annually in the spring. Horses receiving their first dose must have a booster in 3-4 weeks.
- RHINOPNEUMONITIS (PNEUMABORT-K): Herpes virus form of Rhino is the most common cause of abortion. Vaccinate pregnant mares in the 5th, 7th, and 9th month of pregnancy.
- STRANGLES (Distemper): Strangles is a highly contagious bacterial infection. Symptoms are fever, nasal discharge, cough, loss of appetite and swollen lymph nodes in the head. Strangles is transmitted via nasal secretions, pus from draining abscesses, flies and contaminated objects. Ask your veterinarian for specific vaccination recommendations.
- EQUINE VIRAL ARTERITIS (EVA): Most commonly given to breeding animals in endemic areas. Iowa is not an endemic area.
- INTRANASAL INFLUENZA VACCINE (FLU-AVERT): Protects against influenza and is given at the source of infection, the nasal passages. Highly effective and recommended for horses at boarding stables, breeding facilities and racetracks.