Planning For Emergencies

By Dr. Caity Cosentino

Horses have a knack at getting themselves into trouble. By definition, an emergency is a serious and unexpected situation requiring immediate action. Because emergencies are unplanned events, it is important to be as prepared as possible in the event you find yourself with a sick or injured horse on your hands. In many situations, time is working against you and every minute counts. Having an emergency kit on hand and plans in place for the most commonly encountered situations will make treating your equine friend more effective and efficient. There are different levels of emergencies. Ones that need to be seen as soon as possible by a veterinarian, those that should be seen within the same day of the occurrence and ones that can likely be treated by a well educated owner. Emergencies that need to be seen in a timely manner include uncontrollable bleeding, persistent abdominal pain (colic), difficulty foaling, respiratory distress, limb fracture, downed horses, and any situation where the horse or its owner is in immediate danger. Emergencies that need to be seen the same day include eye injuries, choke, wounds requiring suturing, diarrhea and fevers. Here’s how you can help your veterinarian; assess the situation and have a thorough description of the horses symptoms ready (this may include pictures), collect vital signs if possible (heart rate, respiratory rate and temperature), know the address where the horse is located and the best phone number to reach you. Below is a list of things to have in your emergency barn kit (or trailer kit):

  • Stethoscope – to take accurate heart rate
  • Thermometer – cheap digital one from drug store is fine
  • Antiseptic solution – betadine or chlorhexadine
  • Sterile gauze for cleaning wounds
  • Non-stick telfa pads for bandaging
  • Vetrap
  • Cotton bandages or standing wraps
  • Triple antibiotic ointment
  • Small clean bucket for warm water and towels
  • Duct Tape for wrapping feet; Cotton or diapers
  • Small rubber pan for soaking feet and Epsom salt
  • Scissors
  • Flashlight
  • Clips for hanging IV bags
  • Rope for pulling over a cast horse (at least 10 feet long)

These are the basic supplies you should have readily available. It is also a good idea to have banamine on hand that your veterinarian may instruct you to give in certain situations. If possible it is best to have your horse waiting in a clean, dry, well lit environment. If you have difficulty taking your horse’s heart rate, ask your veterinarian to give you some tips next time they are out. Post your veterinarian’s number on the stall door or on a white board in the barn. If your horse is insured, be sure to keep the insurance companies contact information handy as well. You may wish to have a binder in the barn where all the contact information is present for all the horses in the barn. Make sure to list names and numbers of veterinarians, farriers and insurance companies. This will save you time when you’re scrambling to get a hold of everyone. If you are going out of town be sure there is a way to reach you or if that is not possible leave written consent for a caretaker to make decisions on your behalf. Be sure to sit down and have a conversation with your family about worst case scenarios to be prepared if you are faced with difficult decisions. It is a good idea to ponder ahead of time whether or not you would be willing to take your horse to a veterinary hospital for surgeries or advanced treatments. These are often situations that do not afford you much time to think about your options. If you are prepared for the worst, you will only be faced with the best! Hopefully having plans in place and supplies at the ready will both give you peace of mind and also ward off any emergency situations.