Dr. Tania Sundra

17 March 2020

Top 10 Equine Emergencies

1. Colic

What it is: Your horse is showing signs of abdominal pain.
What you’ll see: Your horse’s colic symptoms can range from mild depression, a lack of interest in food, and reduced manure output over a few days time to sudden, severe, violent rolling and throwing himself on the ground. Your colicky horse might also paw, roll, stretch out as if to urinate, and look back at his sides.
Code : RED
Pain from colic can be sudden and violent—and a severe colic can require immediate attention, or even surgery to save your horse’s life. Even if signs are mild, however, it’s always best to contact us on 0427 072 095. Be prepared to answer questions about your horse’s condition, and provide basic vital signs such as his heart rate and whether you can hear gut sounds. We will give you over-the-phone advice on what to do whilst waiting for our arrival depending on the signs your horse is showing.

2. Wounds

What it is: Your horse has cut himself.
What you’ll see: A cut should be fairly obvious—you’ll see a defect in your horse’s skin with resulting blood and sometimes swelling.
Code : AMBER / RED
Whether a cut requires an emergency response can be a difficult decision to make. Thankfully we live in the age of mobile phones and sending us a photo of the wound will help us provide advice as to whether the injury requires immediate veterinary attention or can be dealt with at home. Any wound resulting in uncontrolled bleeding, or if it’s accompanied by severe lameness or wounds near the eyes or synovial structures are definitely code RED and should receive veterinary attention immediately.

3. Eye Injuries

What it is: Your horse has hurt their eye or surrounding structures.
What you’ll see: Your horse’s eye may be swollen, with either a clear or yellow discharge. Your horse may squint and there may be tears streaming from the eye. If the cornea has been damaged, you may see a bluish haze over the surface of his eyeball.
It not wise to let an injured eye go untreated. When you notice a problem, call for advice. Be prepared to let your vet know if you can see your horse’s cornea, and if so, whether it looks clear or cloudy. If your horse’s eye is swollen, or just has a discharge, it could be a sign of a foreign body trapped under the eyelids which can cause a corneal ulcer. These must be dealt with immediately.

 4. Choke

What it is: Your horse has a blockage in their esophagus, making it difficult for them to swallow.
What you’ll see: Saliva and feed material coming from your horse’s mouth and nose. They may cough and gag as they try to relieve the blockage.
Contact us ASAP. Choking can be extremely distressing to horses and their owners. Whist some chokes may resolve on their own, your horse is at risk for potentially life-threatening complications such as aspiration pneumonia (feed material is aspirated into the lungs). Relieving the choke in a timely manner is important to prevent further complications and to relieve your horse’s distress.

5. Abscess

What it is: Your horse develops a pocket of infection within the hoof.
What you’ll see: Your horse may be severely lame, and you can feel a bounding pulse in the blood vessels that supply his feet. His lower leg might be swollen, beginning at the coronary band and extending up to his knee or hock, or sometimes even higher.
Depending on the duration and severity of lameness we will make a plan as to whether your horse needs to be seen asap or if it can wait 24hrs. You can help by applying a poultice to your horse’s foot, or soak it in a warm bath with epsom salts to try to draw out the abscess and encourage it to drain. If it hasn’t improved within a day or two, it’s probably time to schedule a visit so your vet can attempt to identify the pocket and open it to relieve the pressure. Some horses will present with a sudden, non-weightbearing lameness. These can sometimes be hard to differentiate from a fractured leg and veterinary treatment should be sought asap.

6. Fracture

What it is: Your horse has broken a bone.
What you’ll see: With most leg fractures, your horse will be completely non-weightbearing on the affected leg—they may put no weight on the foot at all when he’s asked to take a step. Their heart rate may be elevated (80 beats per minute or even more), indicating severe pain. If the fracture is severe, you may be able to see where the bone is dangling, or even worse, where its broken ends are exposed through an accompanying skin wound.
Yes. This calls for immediate veterinary attention. If a fracture can be surgically repaired, it’s critical that the bone be stabilized in a splint or cast to minimize further damage to the bone or surrounding soft-tissue structures. The sooner your horse makes it to the surgery table, the better chance he has for recovery. If a fracture isn’t operable, a rapid response can help minimize your horse’s suffering via humane euthanasia.

7. Laminitis

What it is: The finger-like projections that form the bond between your horse’s pedal bone and hoof wall have become inflammed and painful.
What you’ll see: Typically, only the front feet may be affected. Horses may adopt the typical “laminitic stance” – they may rock back on their hindquarters and place both front feet out in front of his body. If his hind feet are involved, he’ll shift his weight back and forth between his two hind legs. You may be able to detect strong or bounding pulses in the vessels that supply his feet. If he’s very painful, he may lie down or refuse to move, and his heart rate may be elevated due to pain. Some horses may show less obvious signs of pain and be reluctant to walk on firmer ground or even have a shortened stride when asked to turn.
You should definitely call us for advice on 0427 072 095 the minute you see any signs of laminitis, such as foot sensitivity when walking on gravel or turning in a tight circle. We will advise you on when your horse should be seen depending on the severity of lameness. Basic first-aid for laminitis involves icing the feet (continiously for the first 72hrs), removal of any high-sugar feeds and confinement to a small yard with deep sand/bedding.

8. Tie-Up Episode

What it is: Your horse develops whole-body muscle cramping.
What you’ll see: Your horse will be normal one minute, and in excruciating pain the next as their body cramps up with muscle spasms. This usually occurs following exercise. They will sometimes sweat, paw at the ground, and may refuse to move. You’ll feel the large muscles of their back and hindquarters harden, and they’ll sometimes become very painful to the touch.
A severe tie-up episode can cause your horse to become violently painful, and if he’s not treated appropriately, by products of muscle breakdown can lead to long-term kidney damage. Call your us on 0427 072 095 and we can advise you on when your horse should be seen.

9. Fever

What it is: Your horse has an elevated temperature.
What you’ll see: Your horse may seem depressed, lethargic, and disinterested in food. When you take his rectal temperature, it’ll be elevated above the normal high value of 38.3 degrees Celsius. It’s not uncommon for viral infections to cause a fever as high as 40 degrees Celsius.
Depending on the signs your horse is showing they may need to be seen to immediately. If they have had a history of travel or have come into contact with other horses, they could potentially be harbouring an infectious disease and it is important that only essential personel come into contact with your horse. Limit their exposure to other horses on the property and place them in a quarantine paddock/stable. Some horses will develop complications secondary to fever such a colic if they have been inappetant or have not been drinking normally for a couple of days. Monitor your horse’s manure output closely and be able to confidently assess your horse’s vitals so you can recognise a problem early.

10. Complicated Foaling

What it is: Your mare is ready to deliver her foal, and labor has begun.
What you’ll see: With a normal foaling, you’ll see coming from her vulva, followed by the amniotic sac—a translucent bag of tissue that preceeds the foal. Within 10 minutes’ time, your foal should be making his way into the world. If it takes longer, or you see anything other than the foal’s two front feet and nose, something isn’t right.
Always. A complicated foaling always justifies an emergency response. Just a few minutes of time can mean the difference between life and death. ALWAYS contact a vet if Stage 2 labour is taking longer than 15-20mins or if you do not see the foal’s front feet and nose on presentation.

Avon Ridge Equine is available for equine emergency consultations 24/7. Please contact us on 0427 072 095 if you have any concerns with your horse.