9 Different Equine Emergencies And Proper Initial Responses

Equine emergencies can happen at any moment, and it is important to have an initial plan to help your horse remain as calm and safe as possible. Continue reading for a list of 9 different equine emergencies, as well as how to react accordingly as a responsible horse owner.

1. Emergency: Colic

Colic is always cause for concern, as it can quickly become potentially lethal. If you think you’ve noticed your horse displaying any signs of colic, trust your gut and put your reaction plan into action. First, remove all food and water from the horse’s stall, then call the veterinarian and explain the horse’s condition in detail. Keep the horse walking if the horse is able; this will keep them from worsening their condition by thrashing about. One of the most important things to remember is that extensive exercise can worsen the condition.

2. Emergency: Laminitis (Founder)

When a horse is showing signs of laminitis or founder, the first and most important thing to do is to ensure the horse is not moving around. The horse should be confined to a deeply bedded stall while waiting for the veterinarian. If the horse is out to pasture, remove the horse from the grass and quickly transfer to the deeply bedded stall. If it is a long walk, consider trailering the horse to avoid worsening the condition. Once you’re sure that your horse is secure, call the veterinarian, as well as the farrier. Do not feed the horse until permitted by the veterinarian. A forage diet is best once feeding resumes, with limited hay. Do not exercise the horse or turnout until permitted by veterinarian.

3. Emergency: Choke

Choke is clinically known as Esophageal Obstruction, and can be quite alarming upon discovery. The first thing to do is examine the horse. Signs of choke include drooling, coughing, and thick nasal discharge. As with any other emergency, the veterinarian should be called immediately. Remove all food and water, as well as all bedding, to prevent the horse from ingesting and choking on anything else. The vet will attempt to pass a tube through the nasal passage to determine if there is a blockage. In some cases, simply relaxing the horse will help clear the blockage, but in other cases, surgical intervention is required.

4. Emergency: Lacerations/Punctures

In most cases, lacerations and punctures are not life threatening, but have the potential to cause infection or some degree of lameness at some point down the road, so caution should always be taken. Examine the horse for any and all wounds. Clean the wound and apply a bandage until the horse can be further examined. Place a call to the veterinarian and ensure that the horse is calm and in a safe environment to prevent further injury. The most important thing to do is quickly clean and disinfect the wound and keep the horse calm until the vet arrives. Do not apply ointment unless specifically directed!

5. Emergency: Eye Injuries/Trauma

While common, eye injuries can get worse very quickly. First, examine the horse. Place a call to a veterinarian, then examine the stall for what could have caused the injury. Exposed nails, splintered wood, and even hooks on feed and water buckets have been known to easily cause injury to the eye. The veterinarian will conduct an examination to ensure that the injury will not progress into something worse. Most treatments prescribed in this case will be to address pain and prevent infection.

6. Emergency: Lameness

A change in gait or refusal to put weight on a certain foot is a common indicator of lameness, though there are a wide array of things that can cause it. The first thing to do is to examine the horse’s  gait. Run your hands down the legs of the horse to detect heat, pain, or swelling. If both the visual and physical exams indicate that there may be lameness, place a call to the veterinarian. Secure the horse in a stall and prevent further exercise while you wait for the vet.

7. Emergency: Fever

If the horse’s temperature is greater than 102F, there is cause for concern for fever. In horses, fever can indicate a number of things; infection, heat stress, and viral disease being some examples. If your horse’s temperature is running high, place a call to your vet. Hose off the horse with cool water and place in a cool, well-ventilated area until the vet arrives. Because there could be a number of different causes, it is best to wait for the vet before administering any medication.

8. Emergency: Strangles 

Strangles is characterized by numerous abscesses, a high temperature, and loss of appetite. The horse may also present a nasty cough. The loss of appetite is due to extreme discomfort when swallowing; hence the name “strangles”. When confronted with a horse with strangles, immediately quarantine the horse and place a call to the vet. It is crucial to keep the horse quarantined for as long as possible; strangles is extremely contagious. The vet will prescribe constant monitoring, rest, and anti-inflammatories.

9. Emergency: Stocking Up

Stocking up is the pooling of fluid in the extremities, which causes swelling. In most cases, it is usually not fatal, and commonly affects horses on stall rest or those who are not on a proper turnout and exercise schedule. While waiting for the vet, keep the horse walking, if possible. Your veterinarian will recommend an increase turnout/exercise frequency, a change in diet, and they may ask that you consider placing compression wraps on the horse’s legs to combat swelling.

In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to get caught up in worry or fear for your horse, but going forward with the information you learned here, you will be able to design initial reaction plans in the case of emergency. Consult your veterinarian to find out if he or she recommends anything else in cases regarding your horse.

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