Knowing exactly when to call a vet can be challenging for obvious reasons. Sometimes there will be obvious signs a horse is in distress – other times, not so much.

There are no hard and fast rules and relying on gut instinct is usually best – along with the “better to be safe than sorry” approach.

It’s a bit like caring for young children who don’t always know or can’t communicate their source of pain.

There usually comes a point in time where you know you need medical attention. Sometimes that moment arrives very quickly.

Your horse deserves the same consideration.

Below is a guide for potential health problems with horses that either require immediate attention or may be monitored for a short period of time.

The best rule of thumb is, “If you’re not sure at all, make the call”.

When an equine vet is needed immediately

Severe wounds, severe bleeding and suspected fractures – all of these issues obviously require the immediate attention of a vet. Do not attempt to remove any foreign objects which have pierced your horse’s body. Leave it to a professional.

Colic or acute abdominal pain – there are a number of reasons your horse may have a swollen or tender stomach or intestines. It generally leads to a loss of appetite, bloating, sweating, pawing and rolling.

Injury or infection to eyes or eyelids – these injuries often require surgical suturing and may need reconstructive surgery. Eye ulcers can rupture in less than 24 hours if left untreated.

Foaling mare under duress – foaling mares who appear to be straining or are in labour for more than 20 minutes without progress need the assistance of a vet.

Severe diarrhoea – Use common sense. You wouldn’t call a doctor for yourself after one bout of diarrhoea. But severe and persistent diarrhoea lasting longer than 24 hours may be a sign of infection or dysbiosis in their hindgut.

Signs of fever – these include if your horse is sweating, has a high temperature, has lost its appetite and is restless or anxious. An increased respiration and pulse rate, fluctuating skin temperatures and reddening of the gums are other telltale signs. If your horse has a temperature but continues to eat, monitor for 48 hours before calling a vet. Fevers in horses often pass quickly.

Respiratory distress – strangles is a common and extremely contagious respiratory infection in horses which can be diagnosed with a swab. Equine herpesvirus infection, equine viral arteritis and pneumonia are other diseases which will cause your horse difficulty in breathing and need urgent attention. If your horse is in obvious distress, call a vet.

Mobility issues – call a vet if your horse is unable to stand or has an abnormal reluctance to move. The initial problem may be muscular or skeletal. But their lack of mobility may lead to further complications including respiratory diseases.

When to monitor your horse for up to 48 hours

Lameness – a common condition in horses and merely an indication they are suffering pain or infection somewhere in their bodies. If you have identified the likely cause and your horse has not responded to treatment within 48 hours, it is time to call a vet.

Injury – any self-treated injury that has not improved needs professional medical care.

Strangles – You may suspect strangles or similar infectious diseases if your horse has a raised temperature, nasal discharge, a cough or enlarged lymph nodes. If they remain happy and continue to eat, you can monitor for a short time before calling a vet.

Loss of appetite – affects most horses from time to time but if it persists, your horse will need a veterinary examination.

Behavioural changes – any aggressive or unusual behaviour generally indicates your horse is distressed and trying to tell you something.

Weight loss – persistent and unexplained weight loss is cause for concern and action.

Skin irritations – anything that does not respond to treatment including saddle sores and girth galls will need attention.

Contact us today

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All horse owners should be proficient at basic first aid.

That includes dressing minor wounds, taking your horse’s temperature, pulse and respiratory rate, checking their dehydration status and capillary refill time.

But if you’ve been around horses for any length of time, you’ll quickly gain a feel for when something is not quite right.

If you have multiple animals who all become sick at once, chances are there is an infection doing the rounds or some contaminated water or feed is the culprit.

A call to your equine veterinarian should be made at once.

At Newmarket Equine, we provide a dedicated service to the thoroughbred racing and polo industries, as well as other private clients.

Our practice has a long and proud history based on excellence.

Our team experienced in all matters including medical, reproduction and quarantine procedures.

State-of-the-art equipment is provided including digital radiology, digital ultrasound, shock wave therapy, video endoscopy and IRAP processing. 

Contact us today to book an appointment.

The information contained in this article is general in nature and does not take into account your horse’s individual needs. You should consider whether the information is appropriate to your horse’s needs, and seek professional advice from a qualified vet.

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