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  Equine First Aid:
  It never fails to happen on a weekend or late at night—your horse is sick or has hurt himself. While sometimes it is obvious you need the vet immediately, sometimes, you wonder ‘Do I need an emergency call tonight, or can this wait until morning?” ( Although remember! We have regular weekend and evening hours, so what is an emergency call for some vet offices isn’t always an emergency call for us!)

  Here are some simple and reasonable guidelines to follow:

1. Any horse with a fever over 103F should be seen by a vet as soon as possible. You should have a digital thermometer in your barn, and your horses should be desensitized to having their temperatures taken so that you can do it safely when necessary. If you are not sure how to take your horse’s temperature, ask your veterinarian to show you how. Untreated fevers can result in organ damage and laminitis. Any horse who refuses to eat, is depressed, or is not acting right should have its temperature checked.

2. Any injury to the eye or eyelid should be seen by a vet immediately. Although some may seem mild at the time, there may be deeper damage to the eye structures that is not immediately visible. Untreated eyelid injuries can result in chronically dry and irritated eyes NEVER apply any ointment you have used for another horse without first consulting your vet. If there are scratches on the eye surface, certain medications may actually make the problem worse.

3. Any injury to the hoof, especially puncture wounds, should be seen by the veterinarian as soon as possible. Untreated puncture wounds in the foot can result in bone and joint infections that can be life threatening. If there is something stuck in the foot, do not remove it until the vet gets there—if it is still in the foot, we can take xrays to see where it punctured and assess the damage to the joints or bones.

4. Any episode of colic that includes repeated rolling or dropping to the ground, or a more mild episode of colic that does not resolve within 60 minutes. Colic has many causes, and some of them need immediate medical attention. It is best to consult your veterinarian before administering Banamine or other pain relievers to your colicky horse. (Click here to read 10 Tips for Preventing Colic by the AAEP)

5. Any injury that shows more than mild bleeding. If the blood is dripping or trickling from the wound, you can wrap it and wait until morning unless there is evidence of more severe damage such as large lacerations, etc. If the bleeding is a steady stream or a spurt, call the vet. A large artery or vein may be cut. It is wise to have a small pair of hemostatic forceps on hand, in your barn, trailer, or saddle bag. These are often sold in the fishing departments of retail stores as they are used to extract hooks from small fish. If you can see something in the wound that is spraying blood, try to grab it with the forceps and squeeze them shut. This could save your horse’s life in an emergency. Also, pressure wraps and ice will slow bleeding until the vet arrives.

6. Any time there is visual instability or deformity of a body part or any time a horse will not bear any weight on a leg even if you see no evidence of injury. A horse who is just lame can wait until the morning unless there is evidence of other damage (torn skin, unstable joint, etc). A horse who will not use a leg at all needs emergency attention. Likewise, if you can see deformity or instability, there is a possibility that a severe injury exists. It is best to put the horse somewhere quiet and not attempt to move them. Do not under any circumstances attempt to splint a horse’s leg unless you are trained in doing so. Inappropriately applied splints can worsen the horse’s injury instead of helping them.

This is not a complete list of every emergency situation that can arise. However, it does give some guidelines for deciding when you need help as a horse owner. At Whole Horse, we believe in educating our clients, because caring for horses well always involves a partnership between the veterinarian and the horse owner. Well educated clients are a horse’s best friend!

We have added a new section on what to do until we get there. Check this section frequently as we add to it! To read the current articles click here.

Click here to view/print First Aid Reference Sheet.

Click here to read how to prevent Heat Stress in your horse.


Denise Bickel DVM
Whole Horse Veterinary Services
Phone # 517-474-4050
Fax # 517-764-7710
3906 Seymour Rd
Jackson, MI 49201


Hours--Mon, Thurs, Fri from 11 am to 8pm, and Sat and Sun 10 am-4 pm

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