Tuesdays with Tony
Farm Emergency Preparedness
Be prepared. I was never a boy scout, but I have certainly taught myself what it means to be prepared. Be prepared to eat, be prepared to sleep, be prepared to groom and be prepared with giant cat eyes in order to get whatever I want. By being prepared, I can assure you I am always ready when the time comes for something in my life to change. You’re reading my blog which means that in some way you enjoy horses, which also means you should also always be prepared. As you know, horses are unpredictable and often find ways to hurt themselves or fall ill in the most unusual ways at the most inopportune times. Therefore, it is in your best interest to have all your emergency plans in place prior to the inevitable time that an emergency does occur.
Everything from small lacerations, mild colics, minor eye problems, and hoof abscesses may require a veterinarian’s attention. Should a situation arise where you are faced with an emergency there are a few items you can have on hand and several things you can do while you wait for help to arrive.
First and foremost, if you believe you are dealing with an emergency, it is always, I repeat ALWAYS, best to call your veterinarian. My docs would much prefer a call for something small over something that has been going on for days. Moreover, they can help you triage your horse before they can get there, so please heed their instructions and have patience.
If your horse has a laceration that’s not bleeding too bad but has associated swelling, it’s never wrong to rinse with cold water. Avoid sticking objects or fingers in the wound, but washing topically with a mild soap such as Ivory is acceptable. I like to lick my own wounds. I do not, however, recommend licking your horse’s wounds or allowing your horse to lick his wounds. So, prior to my doc’s arrival, allow cold water to run gently over the laceration, wash with mild soap and if necessary, you may cover the injury with a clean bandage.
Be prepared with a laceration emergency kit. This should include mild soap, baby diapers (yes you read that right, baby diapers are clean and super-absorbent), clean towels and duct tape. With these few items you will be able to protect your horse from further injury while my docs make their way to you or you make your way to them.
Colic is the 4-letter word of the horse world. It’s the dreaded emergency that no one wants to ever experience with their horse, but also the illness that 99.9% of horse people will experience more than once in their lifetime. Colic is common, but fortunately it’s usually treated and resolved on the farm. Colic is going to pop up twice in today’s blog.
First, let’s talk about the mild colic that only requires my docs to visit once and then resolves. It is important to be prepared for these mild colics just as much as the major colics. That does NOT mean having medications such as banamine on hand and administering them yourself without a veterinarian’s direction. What it does mean is having a small area, whether a stall, a small paddock or a round pen where you can keep your horse separated from other horses and where he can be closely monitored for 24-48 hours. Trust me, 2 o’clock in the morning is not the time you want to be assembling a make-shift stall/paddock. Have one already assembled with no access to food but easy access to water. While I find myself having the zoomies at 2 am, I hear people typically are not as energetic around that time. My docs will thank you for having this area prepared and you will be thankful too. It is likely you will need to keep any eye on your horse’s water intake and manure production for the next several days as well as limit their feed/hay intake. By having a designated area for your horse, this task becomes significantly easier.
If you are faced with an emergency that involves your horse’s eyes, being prepared means having a designated area for your horse to stay for treatment. It also means having a clean fly mask on hand that will fit your horse well. If you notice that your horse’s eye has excess tearing present, has swollen eye lids or the globe looks abnormal in anyway, please call your veterinarian immediately.
Being prepared for the eye problem, like colic, does NOT mean applying medications that you have lying around to your horse’s eye for a week before calling the docs. This can make a mild eye injury severe very quickly. Every eye medication has a purpose, and some medications are not appropriate for every eye injury. Therefore, while you wait for the docs to arrive, you can place your horse in the assigned small area and place a fly mask on him to prevent further damage. Once my docs arrive, they will assess your horse and develop a plan from there.
There is a theme, other than be prepared, to this week’s blog and that is, have a small area to separate your horse in and keep him safe before the docs can arrive. Hoof abscesses can very often look like a broken leg and are very scary to watch. Your horse may not want to put any weight on his leg and there may be some minor swelling involved. If you noticed these signs you may attempt to get your horse into a small enclosure, however, if it is too difficult to get him to move, don’t move him! Just wait for my docs to arrive and assess him.
Definitely do not administer any medications prior to my doc’s arrival unless they instruct you to do so. Having fresh water available to your horse is acceptable and remaining calm is imperative. In the instance that my docs come out and diagnose an abscess, it is a good plan to have epsom salt on hand and a low-walled rubber bucket with a flat surface that you can use for soaking feet. Access to warm water is ideal but not essential.
The moral of the story with minor emergencies, is call early, don’t wait and be prepared.
When Emergencies Require Even More
Being prepared for the situations when minor emergencies turn into something more can make them that much more bearable and ultimately may change the outcome.
Recently, my schedule has been jammed packed. All 3 of my docs have been working their tails off. That being said, we are booking out appointments 2 weeks in advance, which makes getting to emergencies increasingly difficult. However, if you can haul your horse to the clinic, they are guaranteed to see you, and often times much sooner than if you have to wait for them to come to you. While not everyone may have a trailer of their own, having access to a trailer is extremely important to anyone involved with horses. More on trailers and trailering in a bit.
In the rare instance where your horse’s colic doesn’t resolve on the farm, the next step may be to bring your horse to my clinic or to a referral hospital. This is where having access to a trailer really comes in handy. The ability to haul your horse to our clinic for evaluation will most certainly allow for quick assessment and further treatment if necessary. Lacerations are another emergency that may be handled on the farm but may also require hospitalization. Hospitalization may be necessary for wound treatment, antibiotic administration and observation.
Having access to a trailer, whether you own one yourself or borrow one, is important. I highly recommend you have a plan in place should the need for a trailer arise. I can guarantee you it will be nearly impossible to find transportation for your horse at 3 o’clock in the morning if you don’t already have a trailer lined up. There are some transportation companies that offer after-hours services, but I highly recommend contacting them and having an account set up before an after-hours emergency occurs, and to make sure they cover your area. Similarly, your neighbor may have a trailer they have offered to let you to use, but are they going to answer their phone in the middle of the night? Have a set plan in place with them so there is no doubt you can use the trailer and that it will be available should you need it.
Have a backup plan too. Trailers like to have flat tires at the most inopportune time. Knowing where all the equipment is to change the tire will save you a lot of headaches, as will having a backup trailer or transportation available should an emergency arise. If the trailer available to you doesn’t get used much, make sure you air up the tires and pull it around the block once in a while. Also, make sure you know how to hook it up! A crisis is not the time to learn all the things.
While no one likes to talk about money, we have to talk about money. Part of being prepared for an emergency means knowing how much money you have available for said emergency. It may be $200, or it may be $20,000, but knowing exactly how much you are willing to spend is necessary to make informed decisions about your horse’s care. I highly recommend having a separate savings account for your horse emergencies. Let’s be honest: it is not if your horse is going to have an emergency, it’s when. Having money saved for emergencies allows for significantly easier decision making. Typical colics and lacerations that can be handled on the farm usually cost between $400-600 depending on the extent of the problem. Colics that require hospitalization with fluids and monitoring are usually around $2000, and severe colics that require surgery can cost anywhere from $10,000- $20,000. If you have questions about the cost of common emergencies, be sure to ask my docs the next time they are out for your horse’s wellness visits. They want you to be prepared and able to make the best decisions for you horse just as much as you do.
Remember: being prepared for all types of emergencies may reduce the severity of your horse’s problem, help you make the best decision possible, and could even save your horse’s life.
Until next week,
P.S. The humans have a podcast that covers even more aspects of being ready for anything! You can find it here on my Podcast Page.
Tuesdays with Tony is the official blog of Tony the Clinic Cat at Springhill Equine Veterinary Clinic in Newberry, Florida. If you liked this blog, please subscribe below, and share it with your friends on social media! For more information, please call us at (352) 472-1620, visit our website at SpringhillEquine.com, or follow us on Facebook!