First aid can determine a horse's future

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Equines are highly accident- and ailment-prone. Sudden and common conditions include lacerations, colic, insect stings, snake bites and eye injuries. Two area veterinarians have generously shared their expertise to help prepare us to gauge severity of, and possibly treat, those situations.

Lacerations: Andrew Dean, DVM, of Laporte Animal Clinic, advised that pressure should be applied to fresh, actively bleeding wounds. Wait approximately 30 minutes before again checking so clotting has time to transpire. Dean recommends Celox, a clotting agent embedded in gauze. For minor cuts, hose off the wound and apply a betadine solution. And, he counseled owners should be certain tetanus immunizations are kept current.

Gregory Farrand, DVM, of Northern Colorado Veterinary Services, cautioned that using water to flush severe cuts can cause edema. Instead, he said, rinse with saline before gently scrubbing with a betadine/saline solution. A pressure bandage is called for when hemorrhaging persists. Be sure to use lots of padding under it to assure even pressure. All bandaging should be sterile and incorporate three to four cotton layers over a non-stick material, such as telfa pads or a baby diaper.

Insect Bites: With warm weather come nasty, blood-sucking bugs. Most bites are merely annoying, but for stronger reactions, including elevated body temperature, follow these steps: Remove the stinger, if possible. If you note localized swelling, hives or depression, hose the inflamed area with cold water and medicate the animal with an antihistamine, anti-inflammatory or steroids, Dean said.

Snake Bites: Most equines escape serious side-effects of insect attacks, but snake bites (particularly by rattlers) endanger one and all. Lifelong (or life-ending) problems, including kidney failure, can plague victims.

Dr. Farrand stressed that a veterinarian must immediately be called upon discovery of snakebite. Since most attacks occur when a curious horse sticks its nose into the wrong place at the wrong time, the poor animal’s fang-pierced snout will swell three to five times normal size. The horse might exhibit breathing difficulty and, if time has passed since the bite was inflicted, nasal discharge as well, Farrand said.

Mouth Injuries: Dr. Jim Latham DVM of Mill Creek Veterinary Services, says injuries to the oral cavity in horses can be divided into two categories: soft tissues, including lips, tongue and gums, and hard tissues which include bones of the jaw and teeth. Signs of oral injury include excessive saliva, possibly blood-tinged, mouth hanging open, failure to eat or an obvious external deformity. Minor to moderate soft tissue injures often do not require suturing because oral tissues are not as reactive to injury as other parts of the body and wounds are bathed in saliva which contains enzymes beneficial to healing. Robust blood supply also speeds repair. Deep wounds or those that cause deformity will require suturing.

According to Latham, injuries are common in young horses because their jaws are still fragile. Baby teeth are easily displaced causing premature exposure of the buds of permanent teeth in the process of developing. These injuries can result in distortion or destruction of adult teeth. Trauma to adult incisors or molars should be evaluated by a veterinarian because of possible exposure of the live pulp chamber resulting in tooth root damage or loss. Horses get cavities, but this is seldom an emergency situation and can be remedied at the time of an oral examination by a veterinarian.

Colic: Most owners have been warned to keep a colicky horse on its feet, preferably walking, no matter what. Under no circumstances must an afflicted animal be allowed to lie down. But Dean said that, if the equine remains quiet and doesn’t roll or thrash, it’s perfectly fine to allow it rest. When the vet arrives, be sure to mention any painkillers/dosage you’ve administered while waiting.

Eye Injuries: “Any perceived eyeball injury should be treated by a veterinarian,” Farrand cautioned.

There’s no reason to risk your horse’s sight by treating trauma to the eyeball yourself; call the vet. Also send for your veterinarian if the margin of an eyelid (the area where eye edges meet when closed) is torn, Farrand further advised.

Some optical conditions can be owner-treated. If dust irritates the eye, irrigate or flush with an ophthalmic solution, but only if the horse cooperates. There’s no point in exacerbating the injury or risking your own. If the animal’s demeanor doesn’t allow safe treatment and symptoms continue, call the vet. During fly season, keep eyes clear of discharge. The sticky matter creates a vicious circle that invites more irritation from more flies, causing yet more discharge.

Dean offered tips to prevent potentially perilous mistakes. Always call your veterinarian ASAP, at least for consultation, in any emergency. Ask yourself several questions before treating anything yourself: Are my skill level and the products I have on-hand adequate to address the problem? Is a cut merely skin-deep? How much is it bleeding? Where is the wound? (If over a joint, results can be catastrophic, even when there’s little bleeding. Cuts over the muscle body generally lead to less peril than ones to lower limbs, Dean said.) Untreated wounds can cause severe infection, some that leave no recourse other than humane euthanasia, he warned.

Monitor your horses frequently. “Every horse should be observed once or twice daily,” Farrand said. “Inspect all sides of the animal and assess for normal attitude and appetite. A thorough look-over once a week can forestall major problems that were initially minor.”

Basic First Aid Kit

Drs. Dean and Farrand agree on the following items and products for every horse owner’s basic first aid kit. If you haul horses, carry along a duplicate kit (beware freezing of liquids & salves in winter).

Rectal thermometer
Bandaging scissors
Bandaging materials (roll-type gauze, absorbent padding, elastic wrap, sticky elastic wrap)
Betadine scrub
Normal saline solution
Eye-washing saline
Electrolyte paste (for colic)
Anti-inflammatory (i.e. bute or Banamine paste)

Dean also recommends some new products: Ocusoft eyewash, Sea Salt Derma Spray, Derma Gel, Vetericyn line of wound sprays, the clotting agent Celox, veterinary aluminum spray bandage and over-the-counter Kerlix anti-microbial sponge dressings.