When to Call the Vet


Equine Veterinarian

Call? Wait? Don't put off calling the veterinarian. Often a phone consultation is all that is needed to decide a course of action.

Whether or not to call the veterinarian is a dilemma all observant horse owners face on a regular basis. Fortunately a few guidelines can make the decision-making process a little easier.

Anytime a horse has life-threatening injuries or illness, the veterinarian should be called immediately. Emergency signs that indicate a vet is needed sooner rather than later include the following:

  • Colic symptoms that indicate extreme pain suggesting that the colic is obstructional with possible displacements of parts of the intestine which have become twisted, trapped or pinched in the body cavity, always require a vet's services. The horse may go into shock or die without intervention and possibly surgery.
  • Severe injuries or deep wounds that expose bone and puncture wounds.  If a less serious wound shows signs of infection a vet's services will be needed to prevent further complications.
  • Profuse bleeding from any part of the horse's body.  Even if you are able to stop the bleeding, call the vet.
  • Inability to stand indicates that the horse has serious health complications. If the horse is staggering or has trouble staying on its feet, a vet should be called ASAP.
  • Diarrhea that is severe, foul-smelling and watery can be life-threatening.
  • Blood in Urine indicates a severe infection or bladder injury.
  • Choking on food that has become trapped in the esophagus can lead to damage and scarring of tissue with a subsequent narrowing of the esophagus. If the horse coughs and salivates with his head down and with watery food coming out of his nose and mouth, acts anxious, and swallows repeatedly, the services of a veterinarian are crucial to prevent damage to the esophagus, although the horse can continue to breath.
  • Rapid, labored breathing or heavy coughing indicate problems that can be life-threatening.
  • A painful eye or eyes may indicate corneal ulcers or equine recurrent uveitis which require a vet's attention.
  • Swelling on any part of the horse's body that is hot to the touch indicates infection and needs immediate attention.
  • Refusal to eat is a sign of severe illness or possibly mild colic and should be diagnosed immediately.
  • Straining to urinate or defecate with nothing or very little coming out may indicate an intestinal or urethral blockage and the horse should be examined as soon as possible.

A prepared horse owner will always have the veterinarian's phone number readily available along with a well-stocked first aid kit to be used in emergencies until the vet arrives.

Dig deeperTM

Finding a vet close to your horse is an important step for new horse owners that should happen before an emergency occurs. EquiMed recommends networking with other horse owners to find a good horse veterinarian. You can also use EquiMeds veterinarian locator to find a list of vets in your area that specialize in equine care.

About the Author

EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.