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Knowing When to Call the Vet for Your Horse

Not every equine ailment requires a frantic phone call to the nearest veterinarian. You can deal with some problems at home, or at least monitor them before making that call. Here are signs to look for when your horse seems under the weather. If your horse has one or more of these symptoms, the condition is an emergency that warrants a call to — and a possible visit from the vet:

  • Bleeding: If your horse is bleeding heavily from any place on his body, try applying pressure to stop the flow. Even if you can stop the bleeding, call the vet.
  • Blood in urine: If you see your horse urinating blood, a severe infection or bladder injury is a possibility.
  • Choking: A horse is choking if he coughs and salivates with his head down while watery food exits his nose and mouth, backs away from his food, acts anxious, and/or swallows repeatedly. A horse chokes when food is trapped in the esophagus. The food doesn't block the airway, so the horse can still breathe, but you still must call the vet right away. The trapped food can cause damage that will result in scarring and subsequent narrowing of the diameter of the esophagus. This narrowing causes the horse to be more prone to choking in the future.
  • Colic: If your horse is sweating profusely, lying down and getting up, pawing the ground, standing with his legs outstretched, rolling, and/or biting at his abdomen, the animal is suffering from colic. Remove the horse's food and lead the horse around at a walk until the vet arrives.
    Not all colic symptoms are severe. If you see your horse behaving in any way that indicates he may be having even slight stomach pain, you should still call a veterinarian.
    If you see some signs of colic but aren't sure whether your horse is actually sick, a good way to tell is to offer him a carrot. No healthy horse ever turns down a carrot. If your horse refuses it, he is suffering from abdominal distress or some other health problem and needs to see a vet right away.
  • Diarrhea: Severe, very liquid, foul-smelling diarrhea can be life threatening.
  • Fever: A horse's normal body temperature ranges between 99 degrees F (37.7 degrees C) and 101.5 degrees F (38.6 degrees C). If your horse's temperature is significantly above or below the normal range, you have an emergency.
  • Inability to stand: A horse that will not or cannot stand up is a very sick horse. A horse that staggers or has trouble staying on his feet is also in an emergency situation.
  • Injury: Wounds that are deep or that expose the bone are emergencies, as are puncture wounds, which can easily become infected. You should also contact your vet if a less serious injury that doesn't require sutures begins to look infected.
  • Labored breathing: Rapid breathing, raspy breath, or heavy coughing can be life threatening for a horse.
  • Painful eye: Call the vet if one or both of your horse's eyes suddenly becomes teary, the horse holds the lids partially or completely closed, the white part of the eye is red, or the surface of the eye is cloudy.
  • Refusal to eat: When a horse won't eat, you're often seeing a sign of serious illness or possibly mild colic.
  • Severe pain: A veterinarian should immediately examine any horse that appears to have severe pain in any part of his body.
  • Straining: If your horse is straining to defecate or urinate and nothing or very little passes out, an intestinal or urethral blockage is likely.
  • Swelling: Any part of the body is swollen and hot to the touch.
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