Care and Knowledge

Care and Knowledge



99.0 to 101.0F. is normal.

Over 102F is a significant fever.

30 to 48 beats per minute at rest.

8 to 16 breaths per minute.

Get to know your horse's normal values. A stethoscope will aid in listening to the heart, which is behind the left elbow. Also practice listening to the lungs and guts for normal sounds. Practice taking a rectal temperature using a digital thermometer and record the normal values.

Emergency items you need to have in ready supply include: Bandage scissors; bandage material which should include various types of tape (Vetwrap, Elasticon, duct tape), gauze pads, absorbent cotton, gauze wrap, quilted leg wraps, leg bandages; antiseptic cream; betadiene scrub; a large syringe for flushing wounds; sterile saline for flush; a non-steroidal anti inflammatory such as bute or Banamine; Epsom salts; hoof pick; flashlight; twitch; pliers with wire cutting ability; hemostat; easy boot and as mentioned above, a stethoscope and digital thermometer.

Most of these items should be available in your barn and house. If you are packing for a trail ride you should put many of them in a saddle bag. You can pre-saturate some gauze with medication and put it in a baggie or plastic container. Another good idea is to take along a cell phone and have the names and numbers of local veterinary practices with you if you are riding outside your home area. Some people like to carry a tranquilizer in case of a trailer accident or other need for sedation. Anti-inflammatory agents are available as pastes, while tranquilizers are all injectable. Acepromazine is a mild tranquilizer and can be given orally if you are not comfortable injecting your horse.


Eyes: Problems with the eyes should always be considered an emergency and you should consult with your veterinarian immediately and decide if it needs attention or can be treated by you. The problem could be with the lid, cornea, internal eye or the conjunctiva which is the tissue between the eye and the lid.

Lids can be cut or torn, they can be bruised or stung. Damage to the lid may cause the eye to close, while the eye itself is not damaged. Swelling of the lid will cause the horse to try to look out and the lashes will be pointing out.

Conjunctiva reaction can cause some tearing and redness around the eye from fly irritation or rubbing the eye. This is uncomfortable but not terribly painful. Such eyes can be flushed with saline and treated with a steroid ointment, but not until the cornea has been stained to rule out ulcers.

Corneal scratches or ulcers are very painful and cause a lot of tearing and squinting. The eye lashes will point down. These eyes can be flushed and treated with non-steroid ointments. Anti inflammatory drugs are helpful. They should always be considered an emergency and examined by your vet for appropriate treatment.

Internal problems like periodic opthalmia or moon blindness or glaucoma, may or may not be painful. A careful workup is required to diagnose and treat these cases.

Choke: This is a blockage of the esophagus from feed which causes backup of feed and saliva into the pharynx and makes the horse cough when the saliva gets into the windpipe.
It is not usually dangerous to the horse but it is painful from the dilation of the throat and causes colic like symptoms as well as a feeling of choking. It is scary to the horse and owner but usually resolves within an hour. Remove all feed and water, walk the horse to distract it and call your vet to alert him/her to a potential problem. If it is not resolved in an hour your vet will pass a tube down the throat to relieve the blockage.

Respiratory distress: If your horse is having a hard time getting its breath, it could be allergic, such as heaves, or infectious, such as pneumonia. Taking the temperature and looking for nasal discharge may help tell which one it is. Also the history and age of the animal will help. In either case you should get help for the horse as soon as possible to relieve its suffering.

Foot abscesses: The most common cause of severe lameness in the horse is hoof abscesses. They are infections that form in the foot from breaks in the sole which allow bacteria to enter the sensitive tissue and start to grow. They are very painful and cause a lot of heat and a strong pulse. It is unusual for abscesses to form in both feet at once, so it can be differentiated from founder which is usually bilateral. While many abscesses will eventually break out and drain on their own, the best treatment is to find them and drain them surgically. Once opened, they can be soaked and wrapped until the infection is resolved. Antibiotics are seldom any help. History of a recent tetanus shot should be checked or a booster given.

Colic: This can be caused by anything that produces abdominal discomfort. It can be anything from gas distention or diarrhea to a twisted gut. Therefore you don't know at the outset whether it will require mild pain killers or surgery. A careful workup and an observation as to the response to therapy will lead to the final diagnosis. Some of the signs of colic include kicking at the belly, looking at the side, pawing, getting down and rolling, sweating, increased heart rate, either loud or silent guts, or any combination of the above. If any of these signs appear, call for help as time is of the essence if it does turn out to be surgical.

Founder or Laminitis: The first sign of this disease is a reluctance to move, frequently described as the horse looking as though it was "walking on egg shells." There may be increased heat and a strong pulse in the feet. It is an inflammation of the sensitive lamina which holds the hoof wall to the coffin bone. The syndrome can be very mild or so severe that the hooves slough off. The former may not leave any lasting damage, but more serious cases leave the feet permanently disfigured, when the pedal bone "rotates" or drops within the hoof capsule. Laminitis is caused by damage to the delicate blood supply in the lamina from toxins in the blood stream. The source of the toxins can be disturbances in the GI tract as from overeating or from an infection or degenerating retained placenta. Acute treatment is directed at fighting the inflammation and restoring the blood flow in the foot. Later, corrective shoeing is used to help protect the damaged foot. Some horses can return to useful lives while others are permanently lame. In the very worst cases the animal has to be euthanized.

Down horse: Horses rarely lie down for very long, and when they do they usually get up if roused. A horse that can't get up is either very sick, trapped or cast, or has a broken leg on the down side. If there is no other sign of a problem, flipping the horse by looping soft ropes around the feet and rolling them over on the other side, will sometimes allow it to stand or will clarify the reason why it can't.

Tying up: Horses that are very fit and are allowed to rest for several days while being fed at the normal rate, have a tendency to have their muscles bind up when they go back to work. To avoid this, back off of the feed when a fit horse is out of work, and make sure it gets some exercise each day.

Overeating: If a horse gets into an abnormally large amount of food, the digestive tract is unable to cope with the excess amount and it ferments, releasing toxins and causing colic and laminitis. If the animal is treated with purgatives and anti inflammatory agents within 14 hours, the toxins can be blocked and disaster can be avoided. If you suspect that your horse has gotten into excessive feed or even rich hay or grass that he is not used to, please have him treated right away. By the time the temperature and pulse go up and he shows discomfort and diarrhea it is too late.


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