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PVH equine ambulatory veterinarian Dr. Travis McKinzie recently wrote an article about equine first aid for the Washington State Quarter Horse Association newsletter. We've shared his article below and hope you find this informative!

Here are a few pointers on when to call a veterinarian and what to do until he or she gets there. Colic, lacerations and choke are just a few hot topics. We will cover more in another issue.


Colic simply means abdominal pain, but for horses, this is an emergency because of their very long intestinal tract. Signs include pawing, kicking or biting at side, going down, rolling (without shaking off), not eating, etc. Call your vet and try to keep your horse from rolling until your horse can be seen. You may have to walk your horse or trailer him or her to keep the horse from rolling. Banamine is a useful drug, but your vet should be consulted before giving it because it can mask some of the signs for the exam and the IV form is better if your vet can see your horse quickly. If the vet visit will be delayed, then he or she will often have you give it. A general rule of thumb is that if a colic requires banamine, it should also be seen and stomach tubed.


Lacerations are inevitable with horses. If the cut is suturable, it is generally best if this occurs within four hours. Do not put powders, creams, etc. into a wound that you want sutured. Cleaning the wound with saline and applying K-Y Jelly to keep the wound from getting recontaminated is good as the K-Y is water-soluble and will allow for any dirt or hair to be more easily flushed out. Also remember that “proud flesh” is nothing more than a good healing mechanism (granulation tissue) gone to excess. Anything that kills proud flesh stops healing tissue that is needed in the early stages of wound healing. These products should be used only after granulation has filled in the wound defects. Granulation can be handled by trimming if need be. Tetanus needs to be up to date and antibiotics will likely be needed. If you see white in the wound (bone, tendon or ligament), this wound is more urgent.


Choke sometimes resembles colic as your horse may become very distressed. This is a plug of feedstuff in the esophagus that the horse cannot swallow. The difficulty breathing is that saliva (or water the horse drinks) will build up and the horse cannot swallow it. Pronounced coughing and nasal discharge with feed mixed in are the major signs. It is OK to delay veterinary treatment a couple of hours for choke. You will need to walk the horse some to relieve the distress and massage the lower neck and throat area to help your horse resolve this on its own. However, if not clearing within two hours, it is important to get treatment. Injury to the esophagus and aspiration pneumonia are complications that are possible if you wait too long. Also, treating these is a messy process, so be prepared to get coughed on.

In any case, having a good relationship with your veterinarian ahead of emergencies is very important. Have contact/emergency numbers accessible.


Dr. McKinzie's Equine First Aid Presentation (PDF)
From a Recent Horse Owner Education Seminar

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