Basic First Aid for the Horse

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One of the most stressful situations for a horse owner to be in is waiting for a veterinarian during an equine emergency. With some preparation and basic first aid knowledge, the time spent waiting for a vet can be effectively utilized to assess the horse’s condition and limit any further harm and discomfort to the horse. A few of the common emergencies a horse owner may find themselves in include a horse with colic (abdominal pain), bleeding laceration, swollen eye, puncture wound, recumbent horse unable to rise, foaling difficulty, and a horse unable to walk on a leg. It is important to remember that an equine emergency can be a dangerous situation, and the safety of all people present should be the first priority.

An equine first aid kit of varying sizes, should be accessible during all equine situations, including trailering, trail rides, foaling, shows and at home. The first aid kit should be kept in a container that can keep out dust and water, such as a toolbox or plastic box with lid. Some basic instruments in the kit should include bandage scissors, stethoscope, and thermometer. Supplies for bandaging should include vet wrap, bandage material, non-stick Telfa pads, and duct tape. An antiseptic scrub such as betadine or nolvasan can be used to clean a laceration or puncture, as well as a medicated ointment to coat a wound under a bandage. Depending on the level of experience with administering medications, a first aid kit may also contain an injectable sedative such as xylazine and an anti-inflammatory injectable such as flunixin meglumine (Banamine).

While waiting for a veterinarian, a horse owner can access the horse’s condition and provide valuable information once the vet arrives. In certain medical emergencies such as colic, profuse diarrhea, inability to rise, and a young foal not nursing, a basic Temperature, Pulse and Respiration (TPR) and assessment of the horse’s attitude can be used to inform the veterinarian of the severity of the emergency. A horse with colic symptoms, curling upper lip, pawing, rolling, needs to be evaluated by a veterinarian. Once it has been determined a horse is showing signs of colic, all grain and hay should be removed from the stall. It can be helpful to walk a horse that has abdominal pain in order to keep them from rolling and increasing the severity of their condition. A horse with colic can be dangerous and people should stay clear if the horse’s pain cannot be controlled.

An important skill for horse owners to be able to perform is a proper leg or hoof bandage. When the proper care is given to a wound prior to the veterinarian’s arrival, the chances of a successful outcome are increased. If a horse has a puncture wound or laceration, it is important to clean the wound and prevent further contamination before the vet can attend to the horse. Often times a gentle cleaning with an antiseptic scrub and rinsing with water from a hose can be helpful steps for the horse owner to perform. Once a wound is clean a simple bandage can ensure the area stays clean before it can assessed by a vet.

Jeffrey L. Cook, DVM, wrote this article. He is an ambulatory veterinarian at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital near Lexington, Kentucky.






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