Having a new horse is like having a child. You worry about their health and well-being all the time. I often get emails, or see posts in the Discussion forums related to health care and the question, "Should I call the vet?" often comes up.
So how do you know when to call the vet? How do you know what is an emergency and what isn't?
First let me say that I am not a vet, nor do I play one on the Internet. My first words of advice are often, "If you aren't sure, call your vet and ask." Even if the vet determines that a visit isn't necessary, your mind will be put at ease and you will have some information about how to deal with whatever situation has arisen.
As you become more familiar with your horse, you will be able to determine for yourself what constitutes an emergency and what you can handle yourself.
Know what is normal for your horse
The most important part of equine health care is knowing what is normal for your horse. The Related Links on the left of the page will show you how to monitor your horse's pulse, respiration and temperature. By checking your horse regularly you will begin to know what is usual for him and any abnormality will be immediately apparent.
Your regular grooming sessions are another opportunity to take stock of your horse's condition. As you groom, you can check him over for cuts and grazes, lumps and bumps, heat and swelling.
Before you call the Vet
It's important to gather as much information as possible to give to the vet when you call.
- Vital signs - temperature, pulse and respiration.
- The location and approximate nature of an injury.
- The horse's demeanor, whether he seems depressed or agitated.
- If the horse is lame, tell the vet which leg he is lame on, can he put any weight on the leg and when you first noticed the lameness.
- Location of any swelling and whether there is heat present.
Call the Vet Immediately
The following situations, listed in no particular order, are considered serious and some are potentially life threatening. You should not hesitate to call the vet immediately if your horse has any of the following:
- Any injury with profuse bleeding that won't stop.
- Obvious or suspected fractures.
- Any cut or injury that requires stitches
- Sudden lameness, often accompanied by heat and swelling.
- Respiratory distress. Obvious difficulty in breathing, noisy labored breathing.
- Choking. obvious distress and choking, neck stretched out. Saliva
and food particles may exit through nostrils.
- Horse having seizures.
- Watery diarrhea. If left untreated, the horse could become severely dehydrated.
- Any apparent eye injury. Lack of treatment or incorrect treatment could mean loss of vision.
- Learn to recognise the signs of colic. Can range from mild belly ache that will pass on its own to excrutiating pain caused by a twisted gut that will require surgery.
- Abnormal vital signs, such as elevated pulse that does not return to normal at rest.
- Temperature over 102 usually indicates an infection or disease process.
- Pulse over 80 beats per minute is considered a sign of trouble in a non-exercising horse.
- Elevated respiration rate in a resting horse can be caused by excitement, pain or infection.
It should be noted that there are many other times when horses will need veterinary care, but in a non-emergency situation. Regular appointments should be made for things like on-again, off-again indeterminate lameness, horse losing condition, etc.
The preceding list of emergency situations is not an exhaustive list. If, at any time, you have a concern about your horse's health you should feel comfortable calling your veterinarian and discussing the situation with him/her.
Your vet may decide to have you monitor the situation, perhaps giving hydrotherapy to a hot, swollen leg, and call him/her again the next day if it doesn't seem any better. Or he/she might determine that the horse needs immediate care and schedule a visit there and then.
Either way, it's worth calling the vet to put your mind at ease.