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Montesano & Tallarico, D.V.M., LLP
First Aid for Common Equine Emergencies
Heart rates in adult horses range from approximately 26-40 beats per minute.
Taking a horses pulse: Locate the facial artery just under the horse's mandible ( lower jaw bone). Place two fingers on the artery and count the number of times you feel the pulse for 15 seconds. Multiply the number by 4 and you have calculated the beats per minute. For example: you count 8 beats in the 15 second time period. 8x4=32. The horse's heart rate is 32 beats per minute.
Respiratory rates in adult horses range from 14-20 breaths per minute.
Taking a horses respiratory rate: This should be done when the horse is calm. You can count the rate of breathing by observing the abdomen or nostrils. If you place your hand near the nostrils to feel the breaths in order to count them, be aware that the rate may be off if the horse is sniffing your hand! Count the breaths in 15 seconds and multiply the number by 4 to calculate the breaths per minute.
Color of mucus membranes and capillary refill time
Capillary refill time(CRT) is the time it takes for blood to fill back into the capillaries after some pressure has been applied.
Taking CRT: Lift the horse's upper lip and note the color of his gums. They should be a light pink. Press your finger on the gums for a few seconds and release. Count how many seconds it takes for the pink color to return.
What to do in an emergency:
1. STAY CALM
2. Try to get as much information as possible, such as temperature, pulse and heart rate, respiratory rate, capillary refill time, type of injury, and how and when the injury occured. Take your own safety into consideration if the horse is violent or thrashing.
3. Call your regular veterinarian. If this is an emergency, STATE SO CLEARLY. If you are unsure, give all the information you can ask that the doctor be notified immediately and for him/her to return your call ASAP.
When you speak to your veterinarian, be ready to answer these pertinent questions:
1. What are your horse's temperature, pulse and respiration?
2. Approximately when did the injury or condition begin?
3. Where on the horse's body is the injury? How deep is it? How much bleeding is there?
4. Has the horse been treated already? If so, with what and by whom?
5. What type of behavior is the horse displaying? (Rolling, pawing, unsteady, anorexia, etc.)
If the horse is bleeding:apply direct pressure to the area. If possible, and you are comfortable doing so, apply a pressure bandage. A normal sized adult horse can lose 1.5 gallons of blood before it gets into trouble.
The "golden period" for suturing wounds is less than six hours. Two hours is preferable. Do not put anything on the wound unless instructed by your veterinarian. Your veterinarian may instruct you to apply an antibiotic ointment to the wound. This will keep the wound moist in the event that your vet can not suture the wound within the "golden period"
If you can not contact your veterinarian
1. Clean the wound as soon as possible with iodine surgical scrub and gently clean in and around the wound with wet gauze. Rinse it well. Apply K-Y jelly around and in the wound and clip the hair. The K-Y jelly makes a gooy substrate for the hair to accumulate in , which is easily washed away.
2. After clipping, if severe bleeding is not a problem, use a garden hose and gently hose the wound thoroughly. The flushing action will help to rinse debris and bacteria out of the wound. Tissue that is kept moist will heal much better.
3. Pack the wound with water soluble antibiotic salve and if possible apply a pressure bandage. If you can not bandage the wound and your veterinarian is coming out to suture the wound, keep it moist until the vet arrives.
What to do if:
1. Your horse has a high fever: Call your veterinarian immediately. You can hose the horse off with cool water during the warm months of the year, or let it stand in cold water. If the horse is shivering, put a blanket on him. Let him rest in his stall, do not force him to walk.
2. Your horse is choking: Remove all feed , hay and water from the horse immediately. Try to keep the horse calm and quiet. Signs of choke are profuse nasal and oral discharge, which is usually a combination of saliva, mucus and feed. (usually appears as white foam) Unlike humans, in the horse the obstructing object is in the esophagus, not the trachea. The horse is still able to breathe. If you can see the obstruction in the neck DO NOT TRY TO FORCE IT IN ANY DIRECTION. Call The veterinarian.
3. Your horse has a lacerated or swollen eye: Swollen eyes, lacerated eyelids or infected eyes are ALWAYS emergencies! Place the horse in a dark stall and call the veterinarian immediately! If unattended, some type of infections and lacerations can cause the loss of the eye in a very short period of time.
4. Your horse is severely lame: Stall rest your horse and cold water hose the affected limb. Wrap the leg if it is swollen. Call the veterinarian. DO NOT GIVE ANY MEDICATIONS (Pain killers, Anti-inflammatories). They may mask the lameness, making diagnosis by your veterinarian difficult.
5. Your horse has colic: Remove all hay and grain immediately. Call your veterinarian immediately. Hand walk your horse only if he is trying to lay down. Do not allow the horse to roll.