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Do I have an emergency? A horse owner's guide to basic first aid
Most horse owners will experience some type of emergency with their horse at some point. Lacerations, colic, severe lameness, and other medical emergencies happen all too commonly with our animals. However, there are some steps that you can do on the farm and some information that you can give to your veterinarian to help guide the appropriate treatment and determine the urgency of the emergency.
Building a Basic First Aid Kit
There are some essential items for every horse owner to have on hand in case of injury or illness. Below is a list of essential items to have in a first aid kit, but it is not an exhaustive list for items that may be useful.
Physical Examination Instruments:
- Watch with a second hand
- Standing wraps (quilts and wraps) of appropriate size
- Roll cotton
- Gauze 4"x4" squares
- Non-adherent pads
- Vet wrap
Other Handy Items
- Surgical (betadine or chlorhexidine) scrub and solution
- Sterile saline
- Sharp bandage scissors
- Cups or containers
- Extra halters and lead ropes
- Duct tape
- Tape measure
There are certain medications that can also be handy to have on hand in case of an emergency. These may include phenylbutazone, flunixin meglumine (Banamine), or sedatives. However, these have to be obtained from a veterinarian. And always remember, don't give your horse any medications in an emergency situation without consulting with your veterinarian first and only use them under their guidance. Giving certain medications in emergency situations could make the horse's condition significantly worse or diagnostics difficult if given before veterinary consultation.
Performing a Physical Examination
Knowing how to perform a basic physical examination is a skill every horse owner should know. It is also important to know your horses' normal vital signs. Physical examination parameters have a wide range of normal values, and it is useful to compare vital signs in an emergency to your horses' known normal values. As a general rule, normal heart rates range from 32-44 bpm, respiratory rates between 8-16 bpm, and temperature between 99.5°-101.5°F.
To take your horse's heart rate, place your stethoscope just behind their elbow on the left side of their chest. You will hear a "lub-dub", which constitutes one heart beat. You can also feel their pulse to take a pulse rate. Feel under the round aspect of their jaw and you can find the round artery and vein. Place light pressure with your fingertips until you can feel a pulse.
To take your horse's respiratory rate, you can watch the rise and fall of their chest or abdominal wall with their breaths. In normal horses it may be a subtle movement. You could also place a piece of glass in front of their nostrils and watch it fog when they exhale, however some horses will snort at this and increase their respiratory rate.
To take your horse's temperature, stand to the side of their hindquarter. Gently lift their tail, and insert a lubed thermometer into their rectum. If you have a mercury thermometer, be sure to attach it to their tail with a clip and leave it for a full 2 minutes. Digital thermometers are quite quick and you can just hold it until it finishes. Make sure you stand in a safe position, as some horses will kick during this procedure.
Some other parameters that are good to look at include mucous membrane characteristics. To look at their mucous membranes, gently flip their upper lip to look at their gums. Normally their gums should be light pink and moist. In addition, you can check a capillary refill time (CRT), which is an indicator of vascular perfusion. To do this, press your thumb into their gum until the tissue underneath it blanches white. Then release the pressure and count how many seconds it takes for the pink color to return to the area. Normal CRT is less than 2 seconds. Gastrointestinal motility sounds (Gut sounds) are another parameter that is great to listen to, as it can vary significantly between horses and during different times of the day. The best way to learn what normal gut sounds are like is to listen to normal horses. This parameter is particularly useful in colic cases, where gut sounds may be increased or decreased. Lastly, digital pulses are a key parameter, particularly in laminitis or lameness cases. To palpate the digital artery, feel down near the horse's coronary band for a group of round structures on the outside of their limb. Palpate gently over this area to see whether you feel a pulse. It is common to not feel digital pulses in normal horses, but very strong pulses to their hooves can indicate a problem.
By performing a brief physical examination on your horse, you can provide important information to your veterinarian before they are able to reach the farm, and give some direction as to whether there are any treatments that can be initiated immediately. However, always be sure to contact a veterinarian before administering any medications or starting treatment.
Please contact your veterinarian or any of the veterinarians at New England Equine Medical & Surgical Center with questions regarding how to handle emergency situations or any other equine medical and health questions.
Erica J. Secor, DVM
Jacqueline M. Bartol, DVM, DACVIM
NH Trails in Jeopardy
Dear NH equestrians/tax payers:
Once again, people are trying to push horses out of the picture. There is an immediate need for us to speak up to protect our rights on state land including beaches and forests. Please take a few minutes to review these proposed changes that will affect us in a major way. If you think you'll have no problem taking a pitch fork and potato sack on trails, then no worries; you can stop reading now. However, most of you may find it difficult, and if you would like to continue to ride in state parks, then please send an email to voice your opinion or attend the meeting or one of the hearings. This affects the whole equine industry, and we have the right to speak up about it. Please remember to be polite when airing your concerns.
Proposed changes: CLICK HERE The underlined sections are the proposed new regulations.
There is a meeting scheduled on October 1, at 1 P.M. (conveniently at a time when most people are at work and cannot attend), at DRED's Large Conference Room, 172 Pembroke Rd, Concord, NH. If you can be there, please come. There are other public hearings -- go to the website for more info.
www.dred.state.nh.us‎ for a listing of the hearings –
Oct 1, 6 P.M. - Plymouth University, Plymouth;
Oct. 3 6 P.M.- Peterborough Town Library;
Oct 8, 6 P.M. - DRED Lancaster Office, Lancaster;
Oct 10, 6 P.M. - Hampton Beach Seashell Oceanfront Pavilion, Banquet Room, Hampton, NH
DENTAL CARE FOR GERIATRIC HORSES
I think we can all agree that geriatric horses (over 20 years) are more often than not an honored member of any barn. However, with advanced age they often possess teeth that are worn, irregular and even missing, which brings the need for extra special care.
A quick review of equine dental anatomy tells us that horses have a tooth growth pattern known as hypsodont, which means they are constantly growing (well, technically they are erupting), throughout their lifetime. As a result, later in life we find that some teeth have either worn improperly, or just fallen out.
What are some of the most common problems that may be found in a geriatric mouth?
Shallow, or cupped teeth - this can make proper mastication (chewing) difficult.
Missing teeth (step mouth) - watch for remaining fragments if fractured, hay packing in socket, or extra growth of the opposing tooth.
Wave mouth - condition in which, front to back, the upper teeth become shallow halfway back, and the bottom teeth rise up to meet them.
Loose teeth - teeth that are just hanging on, but only enough to be a nuisance.
Dental care in older horses should be approached with realistic expectations, and striking a balance between preservation of remaining tooth and maximum functionality. Keep in mind some general concepts:
More frequent care: an older horse’s mouth can change quickly, so it is recommended that they are examined every 6 months.
Oral exam: It is important that your veterinarian perform a full oral exam prior to working in the mouth. Each mouth is different and should be approached as such.
Individual tooth care: Many times the dental arcade in geriatric patients is very irregular. In this case each tooth is best worked on and sculpted as an individual, not as part of a row. Power tools usually perform this best.
Feeding plan: An individualized feeding plan should be made following the oral exam and dental work.
I would like to briefly address the idea of incisor reduction, which is a bit of a debate among equine dentists. The goal for filing incisors (front teeth) is to allow the molars and premolars to better meet up and grind. However, filing them too much can cause issues with the mastication of the cheek teeth. Make sure you are comfortable with the idea of having the incisors reduced before it is done.
Lastly, it is important to discuss how a geriatric horse should be fed. As we have learned, no two patients’ mouths are alike, so logically no two feeding programs are the same. Generally, with an older horse we look to feed for both safety and nutritional requirements:
- Safety: Older horses are often at risk for choke, especially when teeth are missing. Always make sure you are careful with long cut or coarse hay, as they may ball up and become lodged in your horse’s throat. Alternatives may be soaking the hay to soften it, or feeding short cut hay, alfalfa cubes, or just good old grass.
Nutritional requirements: It goes without saying that every horse should be fed to meet their nutritional, energy, and roughage requirements, which may be harder in geriatrics due to limited feeding options. Generally supplements such as senior feeds or grains serve the purpose well, but be sure to always consult with your veterinarian or a nutritionist prior to updating any feeding plan.
Geriatric horses should be celebrated, so don’t let dental issues spoil the party. Proper and frequent care can most often make even the worst of mouths both functional and comfortable. Careful care coupled with proper feeding can allow them to enjoy the golden years that they have worked so long for.
Michael Marshall, DVM
Touchstone Farm Open House 9/7
Touchstone Farm, in Temple, NH, is hosting a Fall Lesson Open House on Saturday, September 7 from 1 to 4 pm.
Visitors can take guided tours of the farm’s riding and carriage driving facilities. They can meet the friendly Touchstone Farm horses, including Gruffy the 18-hand Clydesdale. Instructors Cris Sullivan and Andi Snow will conduct brief demonstration riding lessons and be available to chat with students and enroll them in lessons.
Carriage driving instructors and instructors from the farm’s Horse Power Therapeutic Horsemanship programs will also be on hand to talk about lessons in these programs.
The Touchstone Farm volunteer manager will be there to answer questions about the many kinds of volunteers needed at the farm. In addition, light refreshments and pony rides for children will be offered through the afternoon.
Touchstone Farm, home of Horse Power and Pony Farm, is a non-profit educational and therapeutic organization that fosters a community of belonging for people of all ages, abilities and backgrounds. Touchstone Farm offers a rich and challenging variety of experiences, which includes summer camps, able-bodied and therapeutic horseback riding and carriage driving lessons, an instructor training school, and equine-related specialty weekends. Grounded in a sense of place, mutual respect and well- being, the 28-acre farm is a sanctuary that nurtures connections, cooperation, self-confidence, and personal growth.
Potomac Horse Fever
Potomac horse fever is a disease caused by a rickettsial organism known as Neorickettsia risticii. This disease is most commonly seen in the late summer and early fall and is most commonly characterized by fever and diarrhea. Potomac horse fever (PHF) is prevalent along rivers and waterways and can affect horses of any age and breed. The transmission of PHF is still being studied but it is thought to be transmitted to horses through the ingestion of caddisflies, mayflies, and slugs and snails. The organism infects and survives in the horse's white blood cells, specifically the monocytes and macrophages and its target organ is the gastrointestinal tract lining or mucosa.
Potomac horse fever is characterized by inappetance, depression and fever. Approximately 75% of horses with PHF will also have diarrhea which is often moderate to severe and dehydrating. Horses may begin to show signs of sepsis including fever, low white blood cell count and low protein. Affected horses will have a low serum protein due to loss of protein through the inflamed intestinal lining. Approximately 30% of horses that have PHF subsequently develop laminitis. Infection with N. risticii in pregnant mares has been associated with abortions, however this is unusual.
Confirmation of PHF can be difficult by clinical signs alone as these are nonspecific. There are a few diagnostic tests available. The PCR test is the most sensitive and specific test of whole blood samples to detect N. risticii DNA in white blood cells. An IFA or indirect immunofluorescence test is also available but in order to confirm disease paired samples are necessary to detect acute and convalescent antibody levels.
Treatment of PHF usually consists of intensive supportive medical therapy and intravenous antibiotic (Oxytetracycline) administration twice daily for 4 days by a veterinarian. Horses with severe clinical signs and very low protein may need intravenous fluids and plasma transfusions. Once treatment with Oxytetracycline is initiated, fever should resolve within 48 hours. Diarrhea will usually resolve within 24-72 hours of treatment.
There is a vaccine available for PHF which seems to have decreased the incidence of PHF but is not 100% effective at preventing the disease. Vaccination may decrease the severity of the disease. It is often recommended in endemic areas and particularly in areas where horses are kept near bodies of water.
If you have any questions about Potomac Horse fever and associated risks for your horse contact your veterinarian or any of the veterinarians at New England Equine Medical & Surgical Center.
Genevieve Comeau, VMD
Jacqueline Bartol, DVM, DACVIM
Paul O'Shea and Primo De Revel win $75,000 Grand Prix at SOJT
Ireland's Paul O'Shea and Primo De Revel Capture $75,000 Equestrian Estates Planning Group
Grand Prix at Silver Oak Jumper Tournament
Hampton Falls, NH - August 11, 2013 - The inaugural edition of the Silver Oak Jumper Tournament drew to a close
"It was a big, long and wide opening galloping course, but then at the end, it was a short turn to home for a tight triple combination, so you really had to get your horse back and under control," said Course Designer Olaf Petersen, Jr. "But I was surprised that so many people had trouble through there to be honest."
When Paul O'Shea entered the ring he had his eye on the prize with his experienced mount Primo De Revel. The luck of the Irish was on his side, as he quickly made his way around the arena, never wasting a second in the air and leaving each rail in place in a time of 45.112 seconds, and just his first round four faults.
O'Shea continued, "We have this format a lot in Europe, and sometimes it has worked to my advantage and sometimes it has not, but today it really did, so I was very happy about that."
Ramiro Quintana was a not about to let Wylde capture the win though. He and his experienced mount Ollywood Des Horts picked up a fast gallop and never held back. They rolled back very short to both of the double combinations and sped easily through the last line, never touching a fence and crossing the finish line in 59.191 to claim the victory while Wylde placed second.