The most important advice I can give is this - if in doubt, please contact your vet right away. It is always better to phone and have a chat and get some advice, as delaying treatment can reduce the likelihood of a good outcome. We are always at the end of the phone – at Paragon, horse vets are available 24/7. These days it is easy to send a photo or even a short video that will help us make a decision about whether the horse needs to be seen or not.
My next tip is be prepared. Do you have the name and postcode of the yard where your horse is kept if they are not kept at home? If the horse needs to be transported for further treatment, do you have transport or a friend who can provide transport?
It’s also a good idea to have a small first aid kit. It should include disposable gloves, chlorohexidine antiseptic solution, cotton wool, bandage material, dressing and hydrogel plus a headtorch and a thermometer. A horse’s temperature should be between 37.5 and 38.5C.
Three of the most common emergencies we see are:
- Colic, which means abdominal pain. Horses will present with colic for a long list of reasons. In many cases colic will be mild and can be treated on your yard by your vet. But in some cases it will progress to severe colic which requires surgery, such as a torsion or entrapment of part of the intestine, commonly called a twisted gut. Both can be fatal. Indications are restlessness, wanting to roll, pawing the ground and straining as if wanting to pass urine. In these cases, do not hesitate to call the practice. Please don’t give the horse medication such as oral pain killers, because it can mask severe colic and delay diagnosis.
- Acute onset severe lameness. The most common cause is bruising to the sole of the hoof or a foot abscess. Other causes include bone fractures, infection of synovial structures such as joints and tendon sheaths and severe laminitis. All require urgent treatment to alleviate pain and prevent long term lameness. In cases of joint infections, even small wounds caused by a penetrating thorn can cause serious damage. We recently saw a chestnut thoroughbred filly foal, that had been out in the field with her mother. At 7am the foal was fine but a couple of hours later it was very lame on one foreleg. It had a small wound on the front of its knee and when we examined it there was a clear fluid running out. This was the fluid that lubricates the knee joint suggesting that the wound had penetrated the joint capsule. We think the foal had run into a fence catching a splinter of wood. Surgery was required to flush the joint and remove the foreign material and bacteria. I’m pleased to say the foal made a full recovery.
- Painful or closed eye. This is one people always overlook. It can be a sign of severe pain within the eye and if that is not treated within a couple of days the horse can lose sight. Causes can include foreign material like a splinter or thorn that has penetrated the surface of the eye. Or if the surface of the eye has been scratched, a corneal ulcer which is prone to becoming infected can lead to permanent damage. An eye that is closed or swollen needs to be seen immediately.