How do I know when to call the Veterinarian?
Generally speaking - I have a few “rules of thumb” that can guide you. Know that this list won't cover every possible emergency, but it will get you started. The first rule is the most important.
- When in doubt, make the call. Your Veterinarian would rather get a phone call from you about something minor, than an emergency call from you days later when the situation gets worse.
- Catch things early and save some major dough. Your Veterinary bills will always be less if things don’t progress to the state of emergency, infection, or lameness.
- Know your horse’s baseline TPR. This stands for temp, pulse, and respiration and can help to tell you and the Veterinarian if your horse is in distress. It can also tell the Veterinarian what your horse’s normal TPR is compared to now, which will greatly improve the quality of information he has to work with. Take our horse’s TPR before you call, so that your Veterinarian has more information right away. (You can learn more about TPR here)
So here’s a basic list of things that require an immediate call to the Vet.
- Your horse is overheated or he's hypothermic. This is generally for temps above 102 (ISH) and below 98 (ISH). Because every horse has his normal everyday temp, a variation above or below can help your horse get back to normal fast. Don't delay, it's possible for horses to have organ failure and death from out of whack body temperatures. For more on hypothermia, this article has some info for you.
- Colic or suspected colic. Early intervention is the key! This also reduces the amount of discomfort and pain your horse must endure before he can feel better. Reducing the amount of pain and stress your horse feels also helps with any healing that he needs to do after an episode. Also know that if you give your horse medications without consulting your Veterinarian FIRST, the diagnostic process will be compromised. Always call first if you suspect colic!
- Three legged lame – time to call! When a limb is not weight bearing or partially weight bearing, the other limb takes up the slack and can subsequently become injured or develop laminitis.
- Choke. Even if you think your horse will be OK, your Vet needs to see him to deal with the resulting inflammation and consequences of choke. You can learn more about choke here.
- Profuse bleeding. Do what you can with clean pressure bandages, and call him right away! Please do not apply any topical medications or sprays until seen by your Veterinarian (This includes, but is not limited to, anything red, blue, silver, green, or otherwise. It’s important that the wound be clean and untouched. You can always ask for specific instructions while you are on the phone).
- Hot or warm swelling. Again, early intervention is the key. This allows you to help your horse ward off infection and complications from injuries and illnesses.
- Fever, increased respirations, increased pulse. When your horse's normal TPR are abnormal, something is wrong. These vital signs are big red flags! Increased pulse is also a sign of PAIN. Fevers also indicate that the horse has an infectious disease that could be spread to the rest of the barn.
- Random injuries. (Prevention of infection and lameness is key here.) Often, a small nick may actually be a puncture (punctures love to get infected!), so make the call. As a general rule of thumb: if you can see the next layer of tissue, please call, as stitches are likely in need. Again, this is a situation in which you can apply a clean dressing, but no sprays in the rainbow of colors that are available.
- Nail or screw in the hoof. This is life threatening. You can learn more about what to do in this article here!
- Diarrhea. This can lead to dangerous dehydration (which can lead to a zillion other problems) and is also a sign of several infectious diseases that can be spread to the rest of the barn. Your neighbor’s horses will thank you for getting help ASAP!
- Blood in the urine. This also indicates some potentially dangerous situations. Don’t wait!
- Straining to urinate or defecate. Ditto!
- Eye issues - including injuries, abnormal discharge, swelling or anything out of the ordinary. Eyes don’t grow back! I can also tell you from personal experience that eye injuries are extremely painful. And I mean down on my knees, doubled over, begging for mercy painful. Get your buddy some help and save his vision.
- Decrease in appetite or no appetite at all. He’s trying to tell you something, your Veterinarian will need to work with you to figure this out.
- Inability to stand or walk. This is not your horse being sleepy, this is an emergency.
- Suspected abscess in the hoof. Yes, many of you may want to call your Farrier instead, but the reality is that abscesses are in the soft tissue of the hoof, which is a structure that your Veterinarian is trained to work with.
The bottom line is this - if you are in doubt about calling your Veterinarian, you should call. What may seem sort of benign may very well be life threatening. Be very proactive about noticing changes in your horse and understand that often times, medical attention is needed to prevent further damage and lameness. (And gigantic bills).
Know your Veterinarian's protocol for after hours questions and emergencies. Most Veterinarians have a referral service with an on call doctor, some Veterinarians send you right to the horse hospital.
I have also had full blown panic moments when I frantically call the Vet, and the Vet has talked me down off the ledge and advised me what to do until she can get there. I have also received chuckles and giggles from some ridiculous questions that I have asked!! Doesn’t matter - that just makes me smarter and a better horseperson for it.