For horse and pony owners, sooner or later there comes a moment when their pet's health deteriorates and they need (sometimes urgent) medical care. Depending on whether it is a sudden change or whether the disease or illness has been around for some time - you should always try to call your vet. The following article is just a brief description of guidelines aimed at preparing the owner for potential conversations with your vet and does not cover emergencies such as accidents - this is a quick guide that we hope is helpful in such situations. Please keep in mind, that every veterinarian works according to the different situation and questions they ask may differ significantly from those listed below.
As a horse owner myself, I always try to get an idea of how many practices in my area provide veterinary services for horses. It is good to have contact with more a number of equestrian vets and take note of their contact details e.g. on the information board in the stable or in another easily accessible location. It can sometimes happen that the vet is too far away to reach the stables within a few hours, but those who have come from another area - "a distant vet" - could just be nearby your stable at that time.
In the course of a few minutes' conversation, which soon we are going to carry out, your vet must obtain a lot of information needed to correctly assess the condition of the animal. Please note, that some cases do not require immediate assistance and your DVM may decide to postpone the visit in time for more urgent emergencies (this does not mean that they don't care - just like A&E at the hospital, some cases need sorted as soon as possible). On the other hand, I do not recommend that you put off contact with a veterinarian in line with the idea "might just pass".
Questions that your vet probably will ask are:
What are the disturbing symptoms? Since when they did they start? Have they worsened over time? Does your pet drink / urinate and defecate properly (or the same as it was before the onset of the disease/illness)?
It is good to stay close to your horse during a call. Your vet may ask you about some of the issues on which you've maybe paid no attention to earlier. For a few moments you need to be your vets eyes and ears and (as accurately as possible) try to describe the current condition of the horse. At the begining I suggest you to notice the most visible details which deviate from the norm, i.e. An altered behavior (excitement / stress), peculiar posture (legs stretched forward or tucked under the belly / stretching the neck), changed breathing (increased or heavy breathing) or the occurrence of behavior that have not taken place before (digging in the litter / excessive stretching).
If your pet is suffering from a chronic illness or mare is pregnant it should be also mentioned - there are situations where it can increase the risk.
During the conversation it is good to provide basic vital signs (body temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate) and therefore every owner should ideally have a stable first-aid kit - with an electronic thermometer and stethoscope (just the simplest model) - these aren't too expensive.
The temperature measured at rest ranges between 37.5 and 38.4°C. It is good to know the physiological body temperature of your horse, so measure it from time to time when there's nothing wrong with your animal. It will allow the identification of any potential fevers or abnormal temperatures. When measuring the temperature please be careful, because not all horses are indifferent to this activity.
A stethoscope will help you to calculate pulse and check suspected colic (more details in a future article). In my opinion, one of the easiest way to measure heart rate (HR) is listening to heart sounds. After applying the stethoscope to the chest in the left elbow area you can hear the distinctive sounds corresponding to the first and second heart tone. Heard '"ba- bump"- pause" - are treated as one measure and calculate their number during 60 seconds. A valid range for the heart rate is usually 28-42 beats per minute.
To measure the respiratory rate (RR) we only need a watch. Number of breaths is also given per minute. Properly it should be (depending on the size of your horse) from 18-22 breaths. We can observe horses "sides" rising on the outside during inhalation and falling during exhalation. Remember that you are counting the number of breaths, so inhale and exhale is treated as one. Another way is to observe the movement of your horse's nostrils and the air which comes out (convenient during cold days). Using this method please try not to be too close to your horse's nostrils or put your hand near them, because obtained results will be unreliable.
These basis signals will make it easier for vets and physicians to assess the animal's condition, this will save time and help to indicate the steps you can take before they arrive at your stable.
I would recommend to use the activities described above, because in emergencies, the ability to implement them quickly, may be important for the future health of your horse.
Nothing is ever the same, so I would like to stress that the above guidelines are intended to only provide assistance and guidance in gathering information for the veterinarian and help you understand what is "normal behaviour" for your horse. Do not attempt to solve medical issues, as many more serious conditions can occur as a result of this.
Try to get to know your animal, their behavior and habits, listen to them intently so you can hear them tell you when they're sick or not at their usual level.
Good luck! :)