First Aid for Horses

June 20, 2005 (published) | July 13, 2015 (revised)

During nice weather, most of you with horses will be out on trail rides and other equine activities, and you need to be prepared for emergencies. First of all, make sure you have a regular veterinarian that is available for emergencies, so call ahead of time to find out about your vets emergency coverage. If you do not have a regular vet, call one today. In the long run, having your vet examine your horse on a regular basis is important to your horse's health.

However, some first aid will be required for certain conditions until your vet can arrive and I am going to start with cuts on your horse. It is extremely unlikely your horse will bleed to death from a cut unless the jugular vein is involved or other major vessels. Most bleeding will stop if constant pressure is applied to the bleeding area. If the laceration is on the leg, applying a tight wrap with thick cotton padding will stop most bleeding. Cutting off the circulation is not a concern if you use enough padding and the wrap is used for a short period. In a fresh wound, avoid using any chemical to stop bleeding because if these products are used, your vet will most likely not be able to suture the wound. Rinsing a wound with water is okay but applying any products to the wound is not a good idea until your vet examines the wound.

Make sure you have an emergency first aid kit with telfa pads, brown roll gauze, a large amount of roll cotton, and vet wrap. You can purchase padded wraps but if you are trying to place pressure on a bleeding vessel, regular cotton works the best.

Unfortunately, in a colic situation, there is not a lot of first aid you can other than call your vet. You can get your horse up and walking and sometimes this will help but all colic cases are potentially serious. For this reason, I do not recommend administering any medication for pain until a vet examines the horse. Many people have access to Banamine and tend to administer it to colic cases. However, there are some concerns and one is that Banamine, although labelled to give in the muscle, must never be given in the muscle as it can lead to a serious muscle infection so the injection must be given in the vein. Also, it is possible the horse could appear to respond to the pain mediation and yet intestinal damage could be increasing in the abdomen, which would cause a potential delay in further treatment and this delay could be deadly.

Lastly, many people have oral Banamine paste and administer it for colic cases. This is also not a good idea as the medication may only reach the horse's stomach and not even be absorbed and yet will limit use of the drug by your vet when they arrive. Something you can do to help your vet determine the severity when you call is to check your horse's pulse and breathing rate as well as the rectal temperature. Another item to check is the capillary refill time on the gums as well as the moisture on the gums to look for dehydration. On your next vet visit, ask your vet to help you so you can assess these parameters in an emergency.

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