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With the shortage of large animal veterinarians, it’s not always easy to get a good vet out when you need him. Building a sound relationship goes a long way toward providing peace of mind, and often gets a quicker response from the vet. Your job is to be a responsible, educated horse guardian, and respect the vet’s expertise and time.
Here are six ways to be a savvy client:
1. Know a true emergency from an urgent or minor issue. If you cry wolf too many times, your vet will not trust your judgment. Remember, he is prioritizing his day’s work around the needs of all his clients.
2. Instill proper manners in your horse using natural horsemanship. Having a conflict during an examination or procedure is counterproductive, puts the vet at risk, and creates stress for your horse. When our horse Riley had a colic issue, our own vet was able to conduct a rectal examination on him without sedation – very beneficial, because in some instances sedation can be detrimental.
Hint: Always be straightforward with your horse. If it’s going to hurt, tell him. This builds trust.
3. Be prepared with relevant information when you call the vet. What questions your vet asks you will depend on the situation. For instance, if it’s a colic, he will probably ask you how long it has been going on. Have there been any bowel movements? If so, what do they look like? Is the horse lying down or rolling? If it’s an injury, is there blood spurting out, or is there a foreign object imbedded in the wound?
You should also know what the vital signs are, such as pulse, respiration, capillary refill, and temperature. Be sure you know how to take these readings before a crisis arises.
4. Understand that veterinarians are not all-seeing. They count on you to give them essential information about your horse. They know the species, but only you know your horse’s normal actions, behavior, and personality.
5. Put together a first aid kit and know where to find it. It should include:
* Bandage materials, including gauze and roll cotton, pressure wraps such as stretch bandage material, white adhesive and duct tape, and quilt-type cloth wraps
* Equipment such as a stethoscope, thermometer, scissors, and forceps
*Saline solution and/or diluted herbal calendula solution for wound cleansing
* Disposable diapers to be used for hoof wraps
* Electrolyte paste
*Complementary therapy products such as Bach Rescue Remedy and basic homeopathic remedies such as Aconitum, Arnica, Nux vomica
* Numerous bags of frozen peas when cold therapy is needed
* Fly masks in case of an eye injury, to protect from light and insects
6. Follow a holistic approach but don’t discount conventional methods during an emergency. Sometimes a fast-acting pain killer or tubing with mineral oil is called for. You can always support your horse’s treatment with alternative therapies after the crisis is over, or even before the vet arrives.
Taking your horse’s vital signs
In adult horses, a normal, at-rest pulse is around 35 to 42 beats per minute. It’s slightly faster in youngsters and 70 to 90 beats in newborn foals. Take the pulse either between the jaw bones or on the inside back of the knee, and count the beats per minute (or per half minute and double it, to save time).
This is taken by counting the number of breaths per minute. You can do this by watching the flank or nostrils. A normal rate is 12 to 25 breaths per minute.
Normal temperature, when taken rectally, is 99.5° to 100° Fahrenheit (37.5° to 37.8° Celsius) in adults and 99° to 102°F (37.2° to 38.9° C) in foals. Using either a bulb or digital thermometer, lubricate the tip (KY Jelly works well), raise the tail and gently insert the thermometer two to three inches into the rectum. Wait three minutes before reading. If using a bulb thermometer, it’s wise to tie a fishing line to the end with a small alligator clip or clothespin that clips to the tail hair. Horses have been known to suck a whole thermometer in, which is an emergency in itself.
Gum color and capillary refill show the state of circulation. Push on the horse’s gum and release; the color should return to normal in two seconds. Gum color should be light pink; a bluish tinge indicates oxygen deficiency and is cause for concern. If your finger impression stays longer than three seconds, this could indicate shock.
It’s imperative to read these when dealing with colic. Using a stethoscope, listen to both sides along the entire gut. You want to hear a low rumbling sound. If there is gas buildup, it will sound like loud thunder and perhaps a pinging sound over the cecum area. No sound indicates possible impaction and is a danger sign.
We all hope we’ll never need the services of a vet for a crisis, but the odds are we will. Take the time to become informed and develop a good relationship with the vet. Your horse’s life may depend on it.
About the author:
Lisa Ross-Williams is a natural horse care consultant and host of the If Your Horse Could Talk webcast available at www.naturalhorsetalk.com. She has completed the Basic Veterinary Homeopathy course through the British Institute of Homeopathy, holds a degree in Environmental Plant Science, and is an Equine Iridology Technician. Lisa is the Publisher/Editor-In-Chief of Natural Horse Magazine and the author of the award winning book, Down-To-Earth Natural Horse Care available at www.down-to-earthnhc.com
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