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7 Equine Emergencies and How to Treat Them

If something unexpected happens to your horse it can be a stressful situation. Here, our vets discuss some of the most common equine emergencies that are managed by our veterinary hospital near Argyle.

BLEEDING AND LACERATIONS

Equine lacerations can be treated in much the same way as you would treat a human.

  • DO stop the bleeding by applying pressure, with or without a bandage.
  • DON’T stop and look under the bandage. It is incredibly important to keep the pressure on for the entire time in order to assist the clotting process. If you remove that pressure you may actually backtrack on the clotting process and need to begin all over again wasting precious time.
  • DON’T apply a tourniquet unless you have been in contact with your vet and they provide specific instructions to do so. Otherwise, you could potentially cause damage to the nerves and arteries in the area of the wound.
  • DO use a hose and gently run cold water over the area of the wound or laceration. Do not create added pressure as the water should be gently running over the affected area.
  • DON’T apply any ointment as this will affect the way in which your vet can treat the wound. We cannot use certain methods of treatment if there is ointment on the laceration and it will also make it more difficult to work on the area. So aside from applying pressure do not dress the wound in any other way. Just contact your veterinarian in Argyle as you would in any emergency. 
Some information to have on hand if you need to call your vet:
  • What’s the location of the laceration?
  • How deep is it? Is bone visible?
  • Is there any lameness associated with it so far?
  • Is your horse contained in a safe location?

COLIC

While rolling is not always a cause for concern as horses will do this just to do it, there may be times that your horse does it when they are feeling GI discomfort. The term colic is not used for a specific condition or illness, the term is actually used to explain any sort of gastrointestinal pain. The type of colic and how severe it is can vary.

Gas Bubbles – Gas bubbles are a common and less worrisome form of colic. These are the colics that are likely going to resolve themselves.

Impaction – Impaction is caused by a food blockage. The main treatment for impaction will be to keep your horse comfortable and to provide pain medication while the body sorts it out. If necessary then your vet can remove some of the impacted manure to help the process.

Twist – A twist happens when the large intestine twists around itself and cuts off the blood supply and traps passing food. This is the most serious form of colic. Unfortunately, your horse may not show any signs of pain until the twist has advanced and began to distend, at which point there is a chance of rupture.

Bowel Rupture – If your horse has experienced a bowel rupture it is most likely that this is the result of another condition that they were suffering from. If the pain suddenly changes from worse to fine then that is an indication that there has been a rupture. If this occurs then your horse will require surgery immediately as ruptures are fatal if left untreated.

If your horse hasn't passed manure in an extended period of time or you notice that they are rolling around and kicking at their stomach then they may be suffering from colic. If you suspect colic then it is important to contact your vet immediately.

It is important to contain your horse if you suspect colic and need to have them assessed. The first thing you can try is to see if they are interested in eating anything. If your horse is rolling around in an attempt to relieve the colic then make sure that you give them plenty of space.

While moving gently around gently can help to relieve the symptoms of colic, excessive moving should be avoided as that can lead to other issues and make things worse. Do not administer medication unless you have spoken with your vet and they have expressed that it is okay to do so. Be sure that you have a means of moving the horse in case a trip to the clinic and surgery will be required.

FOALING

Time is one of the most important elements when a mare is giving birth. If the water has broken and you still do not see the foal once twenty minutes have passed, if you’re not seeing progress at all or if the foal is making its entry in any way other than feet first, this will be an equine emergency and you need to call your veterinarian immediately. Out of all of the possible equine emergencies, it is important to have a veterinarian available when a horse is giving birth as a vet can mean the difference between life and death.

EYE INJURIES

If your horse has suffered from an eye injury then they will need to be seen by an emergency equine vet immediately. Regardless of how you perceive the situation, it is important to have your vet access the eye and attempt to restore your horse's vision. 

If your horse is experiencing eye injuries that don’t include bleeding, torn skin, or swelling it can be difficult to tell. One of the main signs to watch for is squinting or tearing up of your horse's eyes, the eye may appear to be cloudy, or they may be using hard surfaces to try to rub the irritated eye. If your horses eyelashes are pointed down to the ground with any fluid stuck to them then this is also a way to tell they are suffering from eye irritations or injury.

RESPIRATORY DISTRESS VS. CHOKE

In horses the differences between respiratory distress and choke are subtle but it is important to be aware of the differences. Identifying these differences lead to significant differences in how to treat your horse.

RESPIRATORY DISTRESS:

If your horse is experiencing respiratory distress then they will have rapid, shallow breathing, while having the appearance of being distressed. Your horse will appear anxious and their breathing will be exaggerated. In order to help to relieve the distress quickly, you will need to calm your horse as best as possible and ensure that you have removed any object or item causing the reaction. You will need to contact your vet immediately for emergency care. In severe cases, your vet may need to perform a tracheotomy to help your horse continue breathing.

EQUINE CHOKE:

Choke happens when your horse has a blockage caused by the food they were eating but your horse is still able to breathe. One of the most common culprits for choke is pellet feed as horses tend to eat this very quickly. Another common reason will be if there are any dental concerns that haven't been resolved then your horse may be unable to chew things properly.

If your horse is experiencing choke then they will most likely be showing signs of nasal discharge which is typically feed-colored. There is a good chance that your horse will not want to eat when they are experiencing this and they will most likely appear to be distressed. It is important to remove the feed in order to keep the issue from getting worse. At this point, you should try to keep your horse calm and wait to see if the blockage will clear itself as you wait for assistance. It is common for choke to relieve itself after a short while.

DOWNED HORSE

If your horse becomes downed, you need to keep in mind that helping them will be very dangerous. Here are some of the main things you should keep in mind if your horse becomes downed:

  • DO check to ensure that your horse will have good footing. Ice or mud will make standing more difficult for your horse. If there is ice or mud you can use cat litter or sand to provide some traction for your horse as they try to stand.
  • DO ensure that they stay warm enough if it is cold out. If your horse begins to get cold their muscles will begin to tense up and get stiff, which will make standing more difficult. Ensuring that your horse stays warm enough will also help to avoid hypothermia which can set in quickly if your horse is downed. The best option to keep your horse warm will be an emergency blanket if you have one but if not be sure to use the warmest blankets that you have.
  • DON’T force your horse to try to stand up, just relax and wait for assistance. Your horse will be exhausted and you may only have the opportunity to try to get them to stand once more.
  • DO remember to be safe and smart. The key to helping a downed horse is make sure that no one gets hurt while trying to help.

If your horse is experiencing any form of distress or injury please contact our equine vets in Argyle to have them examined immediately.

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