When to call your horse’s veterinarian!


Generally speaking – I have a few “rules of thumb” that can guide you. Know that this list won’t cover every possible emergency, but it will get you started. The first rule is the most important.


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  • When in doubt, make the call. Your veterinarian would rather get a phone call from you about something minor, than an emergency call from you days later when the situation gets worse.


  • Catch things early and save some major dough. Your bills will always be less if things don’t progress to the state of emergency, infection, or lameness.


  • Know your horse’s baseline TPR. This stands for temp, pulse, and respiration and can help to tell you and the veterinarian if your horse is in distress. It can also tell them what your horse’s normal TPR is compared to now, which will greatly improve the quality of information he has to work with. Take our horse’s TPR before you call so that your veterinarian has more information right away. You can learn more about TPR here.


  • You definitely want to have a Vet Kit for your horse on hand for any emergency supplies you might need. This article can get you started on what to put in your horse’s first aid kit.



horse thermometer with attached string


Things that require an IMMEDIATE call to the vet.



  • Colic or suspected colic. Early intervention is the key! This also reduces the amount of discomfort and pain your horse must endure before he can feel better. Reducing the amount of pain and stress your horse feels also helps with any healing that he needs to do after an episode. Also know that if you give your horse medications without consulting your veterinarian FIRST, the diagnostic process will be compromised. Always call first if you suspect colic!


  • Three-legged lame – time to call! When a limb is not weight-bearing or partially weight-bearing, the other limb takes up the slack and can subsequently become injured or develop laminitis.


  • Choke. Even if you think your horse will be OK, your vet needs to see him to deal with the resulting inflammation and consequences of choke. You can learn more about choke here.


vet listening to a horse's heart


  • Profuse bleeding. Do what you can with clean pressure bandages, and call your vet right away! Please do not apply any topical medications or sprays until seen by your veterinarian. This includes, but is not limited to, anything red, blue, silver, green, or otherwise. It’s important that the wound be clean and untouched. You can always ask for specific instructions while you are on the phone.


  • Hot or warm swelling. Again, early intervention is the key. This allows you to help your horse ward off infection and complications from injuries and illnesses. Heat and swelling are painful for your horse, so act fast to get him some pain relief.


  • Fever, increased respiration, increased pulse. When your horse’s normal TPR is abnormal, something is wrong. These vital signs are big red flags! Increased pulse is also a sign of PAIN. Fevers also indicate that the horse has an infectious disease that could be spread to the rest of the barn.


  • Random injuries. Prevention of infection and lameness is key here. Often, a small nick may actually be a puncture, and punctures love to get infected, so make the call to your vet. As a general rule of thumb: if you can see the next layer of tissue, please call, as stitches are likely in need. Again, this is a situation in which you can apply a clean dressing, but no sprays in the rainbow of colors that are available.




back of horse vet truck


  • Diarrhea. This can lead to dangerous dehydration, which can lead to a zillion other problems, and is also a sign of several infectious diseases that can be spread to the rest of the barn. Your neighbor’s horses will thank you for getting help ASAP.


  • Blood in the urine. This also indicates some potentially dangerous situations. Don’t wait to call the vet!


  • Straining to urinate or defecate. Ditto! This is definitely not a “wait and see” situation, this is a definite horse emergency.


  • Eye issues – including injuries, abnormal discharge, swelling, or anything out of the ordinary. Eyes don’t grow back! I can also tell you from personal experience that eye injuries are extremely painful. And I mean down on my knees, doubled over, begging for mercy painful. Get your buddy some help and save his vision.


vet looking at a horse eye


  • Your horse has a decrease in appetite or no appetite at all. He’s trying to tell you something, your veterinarian will need to work with you to figure this out.


  • Inability to stand or walk. This is not your horse being sleepy, this is an emergency.


  • Suspected abscess in the hoof. Yes, many of you may want to call your Farrier instead, but the reality is that abscesses are in the soft tissue of the hoof, which is a structure that your veterinarian is trained to work with. Abscesses are also extremely painful, and your vet can remedy that.


When in doubt, just call!


  • If you are worried about a vet bill, remember that the longer you wait, the more the bill usually is. Just works out that way.


  • What may seem sort of benign may very well be life-threatening. Be very proactive about noticing changes in your horse and understand that oftentimes, medical attention is needed to prevent further damage and lameness.


  • Know your veterinarian’s protocol for after-hours questions and emergencies. Most veterinarians have a referral service with an on-call doctor, some veterinarians send you right to the horse hospital.


  • I have also had full-blown panic moments when I frantically call the vet, and the vet has talked me down off the ledge and advised me what to do until she can get there.


  • I have also received chuckles and giggles from some ridiculous questions that I have asked!! Doesn’t matter – that just makes me smarter and a better horseperson for it.



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Thank you!