Equine 911: Making the Call on When to Call the Vet

If you contact your veterinarian at the first sign of a problem, you might actually end up spending less and having better results. Let your veterinarian decide which of these three situations you fall in:

Situation one: Your veterinarian is coming right out for one of these emergencies:

  • Squinting, tearing, cloudiness, or injury to the eye
  • Unable to bear weight on a limb or stand, unwilling to move
  • Laminitis
  • Colic
  • Neurologic signs (physical or behavioral)
  • Profuse bleeding
  • Full-thickness skin laceration, a puncture, or a wound near joint
  • "Choke"
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Extremely high fevers (above 103 degrees)
  • Difficulty foaling

While you have your veterinarian on the phone, ask if there are any medications you should or should not give your horse, if it is better to keep the horse still or moving, if you should offer or withhold food or water, and if there is anything you should have ready when he or she arrives. A bucket of warm water and towels often come in handy, as do blankets for your horse (in cold weather). For critical injuries or diseases, consider having extra people on hand and getting a trailer ready to ship the horse to a clinic.

Situation two: It's not an emergency but the veterinarian still needs to come out. Find out exactly how you should manage your horse in the meantime. Should he be kept in a stall or turned out? Should he stay on his regular diet or receive a different ration? Should you start medication now or wait? Besides vital signs, what else should you be closely monitoring for changes? Problems that might fall into this category include lameness and hives.

Situation three: You and your veterinarian agree the problem is not serious right now and you have the skills to manage it. Problems that might fall into this category include wounds that are not full-thickness and low-grade fever. With close monitoring and regular nursing care, you might be able to resolve problems like these without on-site professional help. However, if the situation worsens or the horse does not improve as quickly as anticipated, you should contact your veterinarian for additional advice or an examination.

Article by Lydia F. Gray, DVM, MA, medical director/staff veterinarian for SmartPak. The next GetSmart lecture "No Hoof No Horse: Learn how to keep your horse's feet healthy" will be held at the SmartPak Retail Store in Natick, Mass., Nov.14, 2007. For more information and a complete presentation schedule for fall visit www.SmartPakEquine.com.

About the Author

Lydia Gray, DVM, MA

Lydia Gray, DVM, is Medical Director and Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine. She was previously the executive director of the Hooved Animal Humane Society in Woodstock, IL, and an Owner Education Director for the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

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