We’ve all been there. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and your horse is running a bit of a fever. Or, he came in from the field with a gash that makes you wonder: “Is this stitchable? Or not?”
Of course, there are emergencies in which calling your veterinarian is an absolute necessity. But there are also times (usually on weekends and holidays, given horses’ perfect timing) when you wonder if it’s really necessary to pay an off-hours farm call. This is often the case when your horse has a cut, fever, or if you suspect he’s a little bit “off” in some form or fashion. You may find yourself wondering if you should call your veterinarian or wait it out.
According to Liv Gude of Pro Equine Grooms ,as a general rule of thumb, if you are wondering if you should call, you should call.
Before you’re knee-deep in one of these situations, it’s always a good idea to find out how your veterinarian’s office works. What hours are they open, and what’s the protocol if you need help after hours? Is it appropriate to call your veterinarian directly, or can you talk to a technician? Is it best to call the office or a cell phone? Knowing these details in advance creates a respectful relationship between you and your veterinarian.
There are a few instances where a call to the veterinarian is definitely warranted and waiting it out can lead to complications for your horse’s health, as well as your pocketbook. It’s also important to know your horse’s baseline vital signs so that you and your veterinarian can compare what’s normal and what’s not. Temperature, respiratory rate, pulse rate, and capillary refill time are all indicators that should be measured daily to monitor your horse’s health.
The following situations are definite CALL NOW situations, even if you think it may be OK to wait a bit.
Colic or suspected colic. Colic can be painful and dangerous, and early intervention will help your horse feel better. You will also need to talk to your veterinarian before you administer any medications that you may have. Pain medications may interfere with the diagnostic process should your veterinarian need to see your horse.
Profuse bleeding. Apply clean pressure bandages and call your veterinarian. They should be able to give you more instructions over the phone. It’s best not to apply any medications or sprays to a wound before your veterinarian arrives.
Cuts that expose the next layer of tissue and suspected puncture wounds. If you see an extra layer, it’s likely sutures are needed. Puncture wounds can heal superficially while trapping bacteria deep in the wound, leading to abscesses, so they’re best treated with veterinary oversight. This is also a case where you will want to avoid lotions and potions on the wound until your vet can examine the injury.
Diarrhea. While many of us hope that some diarrhea in our horse is a fleeting condition, it can be quite serious. Dehydration can quickly follow, which puts your horse at risk for painful colic, organ damage, and even laminitis. It is also a sign of several infectious diseases, which puts the other horses at your stables at risk.
A fever or change in temperature, respiratory rate, pulse rate, or capillary refill time. These are early warning red flags that alert you to an issue. Many horses will still eat and drink normally with a slight fever, but you will know that something is wrong from the change in vital signs. This is another instance when the other horses at your stables may be at risk from a contagious disease. Early treatment and isolation procedures can help prevent other horses from becoming ill, also.
Any change in the input or output of your horse. Input is water and food intake, while output is manure and urine. You may notice decreased appetite, a change in the manure, blood in urine, or even straining to pass manure or to urinate. This is your horse’s way of saying something is wrong.
Choke. Horses that are choking have a blockage in their esophagus. Even if you think it has cleared, your veterinarian needs to intervene. The choking blockage creates damage to the sensitive tissues and inflammation, which need to be managed.
Eye issues or injuries. These can be very painful, and as I have heard one veterinarian say, “Eyes don’t grow back.”
Your horse can’t get up or is severely, non-weight-bearing lame. If your horse is in enough pain to limit his movement, your fingers should be dialing immediately. Even if you suspect a sudden-onset severe lameness is an abscess, your vet should be called.
Hot or warm swelling. You may find a swollen leg, ear, or portion of your horse’s flank, shoulder, neck, sheath, etc. Swelling and heat can indicate infections and injuries, which are best treated quickly to prevent complications and unnecessary pain for your horse.
Of course you should always call your veterinarian if you are in doubt about anything. It’s much better to call your horse’s doctor with a silly question than have an even larger bill because you waited. It might be tempting to call a friend to ask if they’ve experienced the same thing, or use internet resources to poll for answers, but if there’s any question in your mind, calling your vet is the best option by far. You may end up being the topic of conversation at the next office party, but you will have learned something in the process!
Do you have any grooming questions or mysteries you'd like answered? Email them to us,  and Liv will address them next month!