Quality care and rapid response time often mean the difference between life and death for a sick or injured horse.

Although each patient is unique, advanced planning for critical situations can tip the odds in favor of a successful outcome. Dr. Jennifer Brown, clinical assistant professor in emergency care and equine surgery at Virginia Tech’s Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center, offers the following suggestions to aid owners in preparing for an equine medical emergency.

Provide proper care
“Owners should maintain their horse’s health and well-being by scheduling regular appointments with their veterinarian,” said Brown. “This allows the veterinarian to become familiar with the animal and to make the best recommendation for treatment in a crisis situation.”

Learning how to administer basic first aid and keeping a first aid kit on-hand are also encouraged.

Know the symptoms
Some of the most common equine emergencies include colic (disease of the gastrointestinal tract), wounds, musculoskeletal injuries, diarrhea, neonatal complications and respiratory distress. Symptoms such as recumbency (the animal is down and can not get up), depression, severe bleeding and colic, signal that urgent care is needed.

“It is imperative that the veterinarian be contacted immediately any time a horse is displaying significant abnormal behavior – for example, he is off-feed or is not walking straight,” said Brown. “Survival rates for many conditions are directly correlated to early diagnosis and treatment so the sooner the patient is seen, the better.”

Select a referral facility
Owners need to know which referral facility their veterinarian will send them to in a life-threatening situation and should have that hospital’s contact information on file in an easily accessible location.

“Making a decision for referral in advance can significantly influence the outcome by increasing the speed with which required medical attention is administered,” said Brown. “It also allows the individuals involved to feel slightly more comfortable in a very difficult situation.”

Plan for the expense
It is imperative that an economic plan for handling crucial health situations be established.

“The thing about critical care is that it can be a roller coaster ride emotionally and economically,” said Brown. “The cost of emergency treatment can be expensive so there must be a strategy for covering these expenses should the need arise.”

Provide the required records
Upon arrival at the hospital, a basic health history will be requested, as well details related to the current illness or injury.

“Diagnosis will typically be made based on the medical history provided as well as on a physical exam. Typical diagnostics for colic include a rectal exam, abdominocentesis (belly tap), blood work, ultrasound, and, in some cases, surgery,” said Brown. “Once the horse has been stabilized, the owner will be kept fully informed and should feel free to ask questions.”

Have faith
Although every patient is unique, owners can improve their horse’s chances of making a full recovery by being prepared for critical care situations before they surface.

“Depending on the injury, following an appropriate recuperation period with no significant complications, many patients return to previous activity and level of performance,” said Brown. “Knowledge is power — the more prepared the owner is, the better the horse is likely to fare during a health crisis.”

The Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center has fulfilled a critical need in the region serving as a 24 hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, equine emergency facility for all types of equine emergencies. For emergency service, clients may call (703) 771-6800 during regular business hours or 1-800-436-2911 after hours.

The Marion duPont Scott Equine Medical Center is a Leesburg based full-service equine hospital that is owned by Virginia Tech and operated as one of three campuses that comprise the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine.

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