Horse Basic First-Aid

What to Do Before the Vet Arrives

One of the most stressful situations for a horse owner to be in is waiting for a veterinarian during an equine emergency.  With some preparation and basic first-aid knowledge, the time spent waiting for a vet can be effectively utilized to assess the horse's condition and limit any further harm and discomfort to the horse.  A few of the common emergencies a horse owner may find themselves in include a horse with colic (abdomimal pain), bleeding laceration, swollen eye, puncture wound, recumbent horse unable to rise, foaling difficulty, and a horse unable to walk on a leg.  It is important to remember than an equine emergency can be a dangerous situation, and the safety of all people present should be the first priority.

An equine first-aid kit, of varying sizes, should be accessible during all equine situations, including trailering, trail rides, foaling, shows, and at home.  The first-aid kit should be kept in a container that can keep out dust and water, such as a tool box or plastic box with lid.  Some basic instruments in the kit should include bandage scissors, stethoscope, and thermometer.  Supplies for bandaging should include Coflex bandages, non-stick Telfa pads, and duct tape.  An antiseptic scrub such as Betadine Surgical Scrub can be used to clean a laceration or puncture, as well as a medicated ointment to coat a wound under a bandage.  Depending on the level of experience with administering medications, a first-aid kit may also contain an injectable sedative such as xylazine and an anti-inflammatory injectable such as flunixin meglumine (Banamine).

While waiting for a veterinarian, a horse owner can assess the horse's condition and provide valuable information once the vet arrives.  In certain medical emergencies such as colic, profuse diarrhea, inability to rise, and a young foal not nursing a basic Temp-Pulse-Respiration and assessment of the horse's attitude can be used to inform the veterinarian of the severity of the emergency.  A horse with colic symptoms - curling upper lip, pawing, or rolling needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian.  Once it has been determined a horse is showing signs of colic, all grain and hay should be removed from the stall.  It can be helpful to walk a horse that has abdominal pain in order to keep them from rolling and increasing the severity of their condition.  A horse with colic can be dangerous and people should stay clear if the horse's pain cannot be controlled.

An important skill for horse owners to be able to perform is a proper leg or hoof bandage.  When the proper care is given to a wound prior to the veterinarian's arrival, the chances of a successful outcome are increased.  If a horse has a puncture wound or laceration, it is important to clean the wound and prevent further contamination before the vet can attend to the horse.  Often times a gentle cleaning with an antiseptic scrub and rinsing with water from a hose can be helpful steps for the horse owner to perform.  Once a wound is clean a simple bandage can ensure the area stays clean before it can be assessed by a vet.

Normal vital signs for a horse:

  • Rectal Temperature of 99.5 to 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit
  • Resting Heart Rate of 28 to 44 beats per minute
  • Respiration Rate of 10 to 24 breaths per minute
  • Capillary Refill Time of 1 to 2 seconds for gum color to return to pink after pressing and releasing with thumb

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