Volume 1, Issue 4



Speaking Equine is brought to you by:

Dr. John Canning, DVM
(970) 963-4573


In this Issue:

Medical Emergencies Happens

Signs of Problems

Being Prepared

Emergency Wound Care


Medical Emergencies Happen!

The horse's natural behavioral traits, the flight-or-fight response, the herd instinct, and its natural curiosity, makes the horse accident-prone. While the most common emergencies are cuts, lacerations, bruises and abrasions, you may also face: colic, foaling difficulties, acute lameness, seizures, and illness. As a horse owner, it is helpful to know how to recognize signs of possible problems, how to safely stabilize your horse, and when to call your veterinarian. The key is to be prepared.

When a horse is cut or bleeding, it's obvious that there is a problem. But in cases of illness, or a more subtle injury, it may not be as apparent. Your first clue may be a change in your horse's behavioral patterns.

Signs of Possible Problems:

  • Not drinking water.
  • Signs of distress, anxiety or discomfort.
  • Lethargy, depression or a horse that's "off-feed."
  • Absence of gut sounds.
  • Signs of oncoming lameness: head-bobbing, reluctance to move, odd stance, pain, unwillingness to rise.
  • Bleeding, swelling, evidence of pain.
  • Seizures, paralysis, or "tying up" (form of muscle cramps that ranges in severity from mild stiffness to life-threatening illness).

A check of your horse's vital signs will help confirm your suspicions. Just as with humans, your horse’s temperature, pulse rate and respiration rate provide key insights to your horse's condition. This is why it's important to know how to obtain and evaluate your horse's vital signs. Understanding what is normal, how to assess your horse's vital signs and when to be concerned is important. Learn more about Vital Signs:

You will find a variation in normal vital signs between horses, in addition, you may find your horse’s vital signs normally vary to some extent, to better understand your horse, take it’s measurements at different times and under different conditions. We have developed an easy to use chart for recording your horse’s vital signs. Vital Signs Chart Keep a copy of the chart in each of your first-aid kits. In an emergency, provide this information and your horse's current conditions to your veterinarian, this will help them provide you better advice on what to do.

Be Prepared

No matter the emergency, being prepared is critical. Early preparation saves time, money and possibly your horse. Here are some guidelines to help you prepare: Emergency Preparedness.

It is a good idea to have at least two emergency kits: A kit for the barn and a kit for the trailer. If you do trail rides, you may want a "pack kit" to take with you. First Aid Kit and Utilization

Emergency Wound Care

The sight of blood may unnerve you, but maintaining your presence of mind can save your horse's life. The initial steps you take to treat a wound can prevent further damage and speed healing. How you proceed will depend on your individual circumstances, and you must exercise good judgment. Emergency Wound Care for Horses

If in doubt, call your vet! The call may save your horse's life.

Ask your veterinarian to help you learn to assess your horse's vital signs.



How to Assess

When to Be Concerned

Heart rate (beats per min.)

30-42 beats per minute

Take pulse where the facial artery passes under the lower jaw. Using two fingers, locate the artery, count number of pulses for 15 seconds, multiply by 4 to obtain pulse rate.

Pulse rate sustained over 60 bpm when horse is cooled down and calm.

Respiratory rate (breaths per min.)

20 to 30 breaths per minute.

When listening to the lungs, most noises should be heard over a 3 to 4 inch section of chest wall.
Place a stethoscope 5 inches behind and 7 inches above the elbow. You should hear gentle blowing sounds, similar to someone blowing on a hot drink. Listen for unimpeded airflow.

Signs of congestion:
Loud sounds heard over a large chest area.

Bubbling sounds, similar to someone blowing through a straw into a liquid
• A high-pitched squeak
• Silence

Temperature (degrees Fahrenheit)

99.5 to 101.5 degrees F.

Lubricate an equine thermometer, partially insert into horse’s rectum, tilted slightly. Hold for a full minute, wipe clean and read.

Temperatures over 103' F indicate a serious disorder, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Mucous membranes (gums, nostrils)

Pale pink


Bright red, white, or bluish-purple

Capillary refill time

1 to 2 seconds

Briefly press a thumb against your horse's gums. Gums should turn white, then pink, in no more than 2 seconds.

over 5 seconds


After "pinch test", the skin flattens immediately.

Pinch Test - pinch your horse's neck pulling up, skin should flatten immediately.

If the skin stays "tented", the horse may be dehydrated.

Gut sounds

You should hear a lot of gurgle noises.

Listen in the area behind ribcage.

Be concerned if you do not hear anything.


Small, firm fecal balls.

Watch for sand or parasite larva.

Sand colic

Pain level in stomach


Any sign of abdominal pain

Signs of colic


John Canning, D.V.M.
(970) 963-4573

Published by SpeakingEquine.com

Winter is coming and so is colic, why? Find out in the next issue of Speaking Equine. Sign up today for your free email copy at www.DrCanning.com

The Team at www.SpeakingEquine.com



You will find more information on Equine Emergencies in the next issue of Speaking Equine. Sign up for your free email copy today. The Team at www.SpeakingEquine.com.