Every vet you ask, will have differing opinions on what their top emergencies are and they vary depending on the circumstances. However there are some hard and fast rules in the equine vet world when it comes to emergencies that get us to drop everything and run……

Colic: This makes most of us equine vets wish desperately for “blues and twos” to attach to the top of our vehicle. 9 out of 10 cases of colic are not surgical, however 500+ kilos of a pain ridden equine, can be a danger to itself and others depending on the severity of the symptoms. First things first, human safety comes above all else, please don’t endanger yourself or others trying to keep your four legged friend on it’s feet. Whilst we all may have grown up being told to keep the horse on it’s feet no matter what, research has shown that there is no benefit to keeping a horse who is colicking moving while waiting for the vet. If your horse is unfortunate enough to come down with a bout, it is wiser and safer to leave it well alone and watch from a distance rather than stepping in and potentially endangering yourself. As long as the horse or pony is not going to seriously injure itself, please don’t go into confined spaces with them until the vet gets there.

Signs of colic:

  • Kicking at their belly
  • Tail swishing,
  • Teeth grinding
  • Refusal to eat
  • Lying down and continually rolling
  • Looking at their sides
  • Restless, Yawning
  • Stretching as if to urinate

Eye injuries/infections: Horses naturally have eyes that protrude slightly from the face. They are (unfortunately) perfectly positioned to get injured. At this time of year, ulcerations of the cornea (the front of the eye), and cuts to eyelids are very common. Any signs of pain in the eye are worthy of a vet call regardless of how insignificant they may appear.

The signs of a sore eye are as follows:

  • A closed or half closed eye
  • A tear stained face
  • Rapid blinking
  • Aversion to light
  • Bloodshot eye or red and inflammed looking eyelids.
  • one eye smaller (pulled back into the head) when compared to the other.

Wounds over joints and penetration injuries in the foot: Both of these shouldn’t be left til the next day. It’s important to find out if the injury has gone into a joint space. The chances of returning to normal if the injury has broached a joint space goes up massively if caught and treated in the first 12 hours after the injury has occured.

It is imperative especially with penetrating injuries to the foot to ensure that the patient is covered for tetanus. Tetanus is a bacteria that lives in the soil, if it enters through a wound in an animal which is not vaccinated, the mortality rate is upwards of 65%. It is easily prevented in most cases by vaccination. We see probably 1 case of tetanus every 2 years and due to late stages that we have seen them at, they have not ended well for the patient.

Respiratory distress: Especially at this time of year, equine asthma can raise its ugly head. This inability to take a breath can cause distress to both horse and owner (imagine trying to catch your breath through a straw). It definitely warrants a phone call to your vet regardless of when it is discovered.

Diarrhoea: This can be something or nothing, however in young horses at this time of year, the concern is encysted redworm (cyathstomiasis). If not caught early and treated aggressively it can, in the worst cases lead to losing the patient. It’s always worth checking out the causes of diarrhoea in any horse, sooner rather than later.

Non-weight bearing lameness: 99% of the time they are usually just an abscess, however, a horse that can’t bear weight on a limb (especially a front limb) is obviously in a lot of pain and from a welfare stance shouldn’t be left in this senario for any longer than is necessary. The 1% of the time that it isn’t an abscess, it is something more serious and should warrant a vet call.

Swollen leg or legs: A singular swollen leg with or without lameness. These can be incredibly painful and there can be a number of reasons why the lomb has swollen (Lymphangitis, Cellulitis, Vasculitis). It is best to get us out to see these as soon as you discover them, rather than trying to self treat. They will more often than not need intravenous medications to resolve them.

Retained membranes in a recently foaled mare: Having a foal is one of he most magical and terrifying times for owners. Has the foal had enough colostrum, is it well in itself? However from my point of view “if mummy isn’t happy, nobody wins” and in the case of retained membranes this can be a serious and life threatening issue. The afterbirth in a mare should pass within an hour or so of the foal being born. Sometimes the afterbirth is held by the mare. This can cause endotoxic laminitis especially if the mare retains these products for more than 6 hours post birth, which can be fatal for the mare.

Choke: These are very dramatic when they occur, because the oesophagous (the tube from the back of the throat to the stomach) is blocked, your horse can’t swallow the huge amounts of saliva it produces. Therefore it tends to come out of the mouth and nose. Food debris can also come down the nose. It is often quite scary to watch, however the good news is that they are unlikely to choke to death, the bad news is that the blockage needs to be cleared. It defintely warrants a phone call to ourselves to help with the passage of this blockage. The main concern with these cases is inhalational pneumonia. This can be very hard to treat and will require intensive treatment to get on top of it.

I hope this has been useful, as always if you have any concerns about your four legged friend, a phone call costs you nothing, but it might well save you an issue in the long run.