If you own a horse you know it’s not a question of if your horse will get injured or have a medical emergency, but rather when. As powerful and athletic as horses are, they are also surprisingly fragile. The best way to handle any emergency situation that may arise with your horse is to think like a scout and be prepared. A well-stocked barn medicine chest will let you immediately start treating your horse’s injury or illness, instead of running around the barn looking for items you need.
While you can’t be prepared for every emergency that arises, the ten items below are considered essential emergency medical supplies:
A thermometer is the number one first aid item all horse owners should have readily available when they think their horse is ill or "not quite right." Digital thermometers, which are safer than the old glass and mercury thermometers, can get an accurate temperature reading in 10-30 seconds depending on the model. If your horse’s temperature is out of its normal range, usually 99-101°F, contact your vet immediately.
(Betadine or Chlorhexidine)
A topical antiseptic will help you clean, treat and heal your horse's cuts, scrapes and wounds. When your horse comes in with a nasty looking wound, sometimes cleaning with diluted betadine or chlorhexidine can prove the wound is uglier than it is severe. Be careful not to get any debris into the wound. To be ready for cuts and scrapes at all times, mix equal parts of betadine and water in a sealable container, adding gauze patches prior to closing up. Next time your horse comes in with a scrape you will just need to open the container and be ready to clean the wound.
Emergency Information Card
Your medicine cabinet should contain a vital signs/emergency contact card for each horse you care for. The card should list the horse's normal vital signs, insurance information, veterinarian contact information, and the nearest hospital facility should you need to transport.
Though they can vary for each horse, normal Vital Signs are:
The better you know your horse, the faster you will be able to recognize when he or she isn’t acting like themselves. By knowing their vital signs, you will know when to call the vet. Once the call to the vet is made, knowing how different your horse's vital signs are from normal will help the vet assess the situation.
- Temperature: 99-101°F
- Pulse: 36-42 beats/min
- Respiration: 8-12 breaths/min
This product found in your local grocery, convenience and tack store can be a hoof saver…literally. Epsom salt is an effective and efficient way to treat hoof abscesses via hoof soaking or poulticing. To soak, get a large shallow container, a round rubber feed tub works well, fill with hot water and 1 cup of Epsom salt. Soak for 20 minutes. Alternatively, mix 1 cup Epsom salt with 1/3 cup hot water to make poultice paste. Spread on hoof and wrap the hoof with a diaper and duct tape.
Sterile Gauze/Cotton Roll
When it comes to treating wounds, especially on the legs, you will need a variety of dressings. Sterile gauze squares can be used to clean and cover wounds, as well as to hold wound medications in place. Sterile gauze and cotton rolls are ideal for covering the gauze squares, padding the leg and supporting the leg. Stock your medicine cabinet with dressings of your choice.
Self Adhesive Tape
(Vet Wrap or Elastikon)
Vet wrap and elastikon are both used to hold bandages in place. In addition they help provide extra pressure and compression to the bandaged area. Do not use vet wrap or Elastikon without sufficient padding underneath. Apply even pressure while wrapping the leg and avoid pulling the wrap too tight.
Using diapers, preemy or newborn size depending on the size of your horse's hoof, is one of the easiest ways to wrap a hoof. Whether your horse threw a shoe or you're a treating an abscess, diapers are the perfect shape and size to cradle the hoof and protect it from the elements. Once you position the diaper, use the adhesive tabs and/or vet wrap to hold it in place. Then use duct tape, make a "mat" several rows of tape long, to add extra support and prevent the hoof from wearing through the diaper. Make sure the vet wrap and duct tape never goes above the coronet band.
You've seen the books, there are literally thousands of uses for duct tape. When it comes to your first aid kit, duct tape can be used to easily wrap your horse’s hoof, no matter the reason.
Topical antibiotic ointments such as triple antibiotic ointments, wound sprays for hard to reach areas and even Neosporin can help fight bacteria and promote healing once the wound has initially been treated.
(Banamine, Acepromazine, Phenylbutazone)
Certain prescription drugs such as Banamine, Acepromazine (Ace) and Phenylbutazone (Bute) should always be available in your barn's medicine cabinet. Make sure these medications are current and not expired.
Banamine has pain relieving and fever reducing abilities, in addition to being a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug. Most often Banamine is used to treat colic pain. Available in paste and injectable form, only keep the injectable form on hand if you are 150% comfortable giving an intravenous (IV) shot. An emergency isn't the time to practice your skill at shots. Although the paste can take longer, ask your vet if they think you should administer the paste if you aren't comfortable with IV shots.
Acepromazine (most commonly known just as "Ace"), available in pill or IV form, is another nice item to have in your medicine cabinet. Ace can be used to calm an excited horse, to prevent further injury to itself or care givers while being treated.
Phenylbutazone (most commonly known just as "Bute') is used to treat pain and lameness. Bute is available in a pill, paste or powdered form depending on your horse’s preference.
Not sure what to do? Call your vet.
There are a number of other items you can add to your medicine cabinet in addition to the top ten items listed above. Consider adding bandage scissors, rubber gloves, needles/syringes, eye wash, diaper rash ointment for scratches, standing wraps and towels. Regardless of how well stocked your barn medicine cabinet is, sometimes you need to call your vet when emergencies arise. Don’t hesitate to call your vet if your horse doesn't seem to be acting like himself or you aren’t sure about the severity of a wound. Calling the vet doesn't make you any less of a horseman/horsewoman.