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First aid for Horses

First aid can help minimise damage caused by disease or injury. Sometimes first aid performed by yourself will be all that is needed. Other times it may save your horses life until further help arrives from your veterinary surgeon. Whichever situation you find yourself in you must remain calm and efficient or you will not be in a position to help anyone. Horses are flight animals and may become excitable when they are frightened and confused from injury and/or pain. It will be your responsibility to keep him calm and safe. If you cannot approach him safely then don't, you will be of no use if you are injured yourself.

First Aid Kit

  • Roll of cotton wool
  • Roll of gamgee
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Saline solution (ready made or ordinary salt to make your own - 1 tsp salt to 1 pint of boiling water - don't forget to let it cool before using!)
  • Wound powder
  • Poultice
  • Blunt ended scissors
  • Hoof pick
  • Self sticking bandages
  • Clean towels
  • Roll of Elastoplast
  • Antibacterial scrub
  • Pen and pad (in case of notes for vet)
  • Vet's phone number and your phone number(s)
  • Clear written directions to the yard - especially the name of the road. Make sure the yard's name sign is viable from the road and at night
  • Money to make a pay phone call or credit on your mobile phone

Things To Look For

It goes without saying that you should become familiar with your horses normal signs and behaviour. Small problems can sometimes escalate into much bigger ones if only you had noticed the milder signals your horse was giving you. However, don't panic and become paranoid, you will be able to handle many situations yourself but you must know when to call your vet.

Some situations require a vet quickly

  • Cuts or tears requiring stitches (for example, if you had this cut on you, would you leave it or go to casualty to get it stitched?) - not all large cuts or tears will bleed copious amounts of blood but will still need same day attention
  • Unwilling or unable to move even when gently forced
  • Antiseptic cream
  • Saline solution (ready made or ordinary salt to make your own - 1 tsp salt to 1 pint of boiling water - don't forget to let it cool before using!)
  • Completely off food
  • Unusual gum colour - it should be salmon pink and return immediately when pressed on the gum (dark red, purple, white, grey are not normal)
  • Violent rolling or any other unusual movements which may endanger him or others
  • Blood in urine or faeces
  • Profuse bleeding - especially if there is injury to an artery where blood will pump out - you must apply pressure to help stem the bleeding and get the vet immediately
  • Broken bones - immediate veterinary attention needed
  • Laboured breathing when at rest
  • Anaphylactic shock - call the vet immediately

Your Horse's Vital Signs

Respiration Rate A horse's normal respiratory rate is approximately 8-12 breaths per minute. Exercise will increase this considerably. It is difficult to take the respiratory rate in a normal horse - but much easier if there is a problem or if the horse is stressed or being exercised. To take the respiratory rate you will need to count each time you see the rib cage move - this may be irregular at rest. Count each breath for a period of half a minute then multiply it by two. This figure is your horse's respiration rate.

Mucous Membranes These should be salmon pink - slightly paler than a human's. Should they become red, then purple, then grey, there is a significant problem.

Sclera This is what the whites of the eyes are called. They need to be checked for enlarged vessels. Most commonly this will be in one eye due to inflammation from a bump to the eye or infection.

What To Do Until The Vet Arrives

Keep calm. You can help the vet a great deal if you are able to tell them everything you have noted.

Colic Note his behaviour, is he distressed, kicking his tummy, sweating, has he passed dung? Do not feed or water until the vet has seen him.

Equine Rhabdomyolysis (Azoturia/Monday Morning Disease/Tying Up) Keep the horse still and warm, do not feed or water. If you are away from home arrange for transport to pick him up - if that's not possible, walk home very slowly with your coat over his back to retain some warmth in the muscles.

Profuse bleeding Try to stem the flow by applying pressure with a clean cloth, add more cloth as necessary without removing to create a thick pad - don't let the pad get too thick as this will reduce the pressure on it.

Cuts and tears If these need stitching you may gently hose to help clean the wound and keep swelling down - keep the horse calm - do not feed or water as he may need sedating.

Lameness There are numerous reasons of why a horse may become lame. Firstly you must determine which leg/legs may be affected and what the nature of the problem is i.e. broken bones, laminitis, nail in the hoof, locking stifles etc.

Broken bones Unfortunately most fractures of long bones in the leg leave a very poor prognosis. However, if you find your horse with a broken leg which you think may be saved, the first step is to try and prevent any further damage to the bone and surrounding ligaments and muscles. Keep the horse still and as calm as possible until he vet arrives to splint it.

Laminitis Inflammation of the laminae within the hoof. This is an extremely painful and distressing condition brought on by mainly by over feeding and seen most commonly in fat ponies - although this is not always the case and is seen in horses for other reasons as well. Firstly the horse must be removed from the pasture onto a deep comfortable bedding (however, some horses may find it impossible to move until a vet has administered pain killers). Do not give anything other than old hay for the horse to eat, and plenty of fresh water. When the vet has treated your horse he will then give you a diet plan to follow to help prevent further attacks.

Nail in Foot If possible do not remove the offending nail. If you have to remove it to prevent further injury from walking, make sure you know where it went in and how deep it penetrated. This is vital information to determine what damage may have occurred inside the hoof.

Pus in Foot This is an extremely painful condition caused by an abscess inside the hoof. Sometimes it tracks out through the coronary band, but mainly needs to be relieved by the vet. You will be unable to help your horse until the vets arrives. Treatment will involve the vet cutting a hole in the foot to relieve the pus, which will have to be kept clean and the horse probably given antibiotics.

Sudden Swelling Check to see if the horse has a temperature. If the swelling is painful and hot then you can apply ice over the swelling for one or two hours (put the ice in a plastic bag and then in a tea towel to prevent it burning the skin). Alternatively you can cold hose it for 20 minutes 4 times a day. Rest the horse until a diagnosis is made and treatment prescribed.

Tetanus If a horse contracts tetanus it is often fatal - there is a vaccine against it. The bacterium (Clostridium tetani) is an organism which is found in the soil most commonly from faecal contamination. A horse will normally get tetanus through a contaminated wound, although this is not obvious as some small puncture wounds may go unnoticed. The symptoms are initially an inability to open the mouth to eat and drink, wide eyes, and rigid ears. These symptoms are followed by a stiff gait and head carriage, won't bend his legs and neck, becomes hypersensitive to sound, sight and touch, the third eyelid will become uncontrolled and will close uncontrollable when the horse hears abrupt noises. As the disease progresses, the worse cases are unable to remain standing. However, not all cases are fatal but for horses still standing the treatment is long and uncertain.

Anaphylactic Shock This rarely occurs and is caused by exposure to an allergic substance whereupon the immune system will malfunction in response to its exposure to an antigen. An antigen is any substance that stimulates the immune system. The most common symptoms in horses are hives, sweating, difficulty in breathing, irregular heart beat, severe fluid accumulation, and colic. The horse may collapse and die if his blood pressure drops too low or breathing becomes ineffective. Call the vet immediately you suspect anaphylactic shock.

Animed Veterinary Group is part of CVS (UK) Limited, a company which owns over 300 veterinary practices in the UK. Company Registration Number 03777473. Registered Office CVS House, Owen Road, Diss, Norfolk, IP22 4ER