Emergencies – when to call the vet!

Know what is normal for your horse. Any abnormal temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate or hydration status warrants a call to the vet.

There’s no way to make an entire list of situations, however these conditions are considered some of the more serious ones and can be life-threatening. Call the vet immediately if your horse has any of the following:

  • Profuse bleeding that won’t stop
  • Sudden lameness, often with heat and swelling
  • Suspected or obvious fractures

    Injuries to the eye are often not apparent until highlighted with fluorescein

  • Choking
  • Seizures
  • Respiratory distress, difficult or noisy laboured breathing
  • Watery diarrhoea
  • Any eye injury
  • Colic
  • Mare actively in labour for more than 20 minutes without progress


Wounds are common in horses and most are easily managed and don’t cause lasting problems. However, some can be very serious, leading to infection of a joint or vital structure, or severe blood loss. Call your vet if the wound:

  • Is over a structure that bends
  • Is over the back of a limb below the knee or hock
  • Is in the frog, over the chest or abdomen, or involves the penis/prepuce
  • Is deeper than the skin
  • Bleeds heavily
  • Exudes a clear sticky fluid

With penetrating wounds, especially of the foot, don’t pull out the foreign body until the vet as instructed you to. Deep puncture wounds can be the most dangerous.

While you wait for the vet to arrive, flush the area with clean water and cover with clean dry bandages. Check if your horse is up to date with tetanus vaccination. If there is profuse bleeding, keep applying firm even pressure and bandaging on top of the last bandage, don’t remove any!


Colic refers to any abdominal pain in the horse. Signs can be flank watching, stretching, pawing, rolling and/or lying down. Call your vet straight away if any of the colic signs are severe (e.g. rolling, heart rate above 60bpm), don’t improve with walking or last longer than 15-20 minutes.

While you wait, keep walking the horse if possible, remove feed so that a blockage isn’t made worse and monitor any vital signs like heart rate, mucous membrane colour and gut sounds.

Overall, the best rule is – when in doubt, call the vet!

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