Four Strategies to Streamline Your Response to Equine Emergencies

AUTHOR: Jeff Hall, DVM, Managing Equine Technical Services Veterinarian, Zoetis

Whether you run a solo or multi-veterinarian practice, you may regularly feel the pressure of the long hours you invest in your work to give horses the best possible care—for both routine and emergency visits. Scheduling your day in advance helps set a framework, but the urgent call will inevitably come in. Having the right tools on hand can help you efficiently and effectively diagnose and treat emergencies when they arise.

Horse owners want what’s best for their horse too. With a little guidance from you, they can be your partner in an emergency with the four collaborative strategies outlined below.

1. Teach your clients to help you

Chances are you’ll get a call when you’re eating dinner, sleeping or enjoying the weekend. Teaching your clients a few basics can help you discern whether or not you need to rush to see the horse immediately or if a visit can wait until the next day.

For example, you’re an expert at taking a horse’s TPR, but your clients may not be. Horse owners want what’s best for their animals and are eager to provide the care needed. Often, they look to you for advice and knowledge to provide the skills to do so.

Holding annual educational workshops and providing materials with emergency response tips prepares clients for responding to an emergency before a crisis arises. Have a few practice horses available for taking heart rates, temps and evaluating mucous membranes. Plus, any information that clients can provide from the onset is a major help in formulating a plan before your arrival.

Many horse owners don’t know how to take accurate temperatures, pulse, respiratory rates or evaluation of the mucous membranes and CRT, so demonstrating how to do these things while out for routine vaccinations is also a good starting point. What parameters trigger an emergency for you?

2. Ask questions that reveal the severity of the situation

First, ask yourself:

  • Has your client’s horse already received vaccinations for the five core diseases and the top risk-based diseases?
  • If so, you know that the horse is already protected with the help of a Perfect Pair, Core EQ Innovator® (the first and only vaccine approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that includes all five core equine disease antigens in horses in a single 1 mL dose) and Fluvac Innovator® (the most utilized equine vaccine in the U.S.1) vaccines.
  • A study has shown that when these two vaccines were administered at the same time in two separate intramuscular areas, horses received up to 4.7 times the immune response against equine influenza compared to when influenza and herpes vaccines are combined in the same syringe as the core antigens.2 

This knowledge can change how you approach next steps in an emergency case in order to decipher the presenting symptoms. Below is the next set of recommended questions to ask:

  1. Have I seen the horse for routine care?
  2. Has anything changed in the horse’s environment, such as grain, hay, weather or exercise patterns?
  3. Are there other stressors or variables to consider?
  4. Have any stable or pasture mates left the property or have new horses arrived on the property?

In addition to the questions above, ask clients to provide specific details about their horse’s symptoms, level of discomfort, etc. Technology has made it so much easier to get an accurate read on a situation without physically being on-site. Pro tip: Ask clients to send a picture or video to provide additional information before the visit.

3. Direct horse owners

When an emergency call comes in, instruct the horse owner on how to prepare. You can save yourself time by providing simple instructions so that the horse is ready to be seen when you arrive.

Request that the horse be haltered in a stall or small paddock with an appropriate handler and sufficient light if it’s nighttime. It might sound a bit ridiculous, but nearly every veterinarian has been called out in the middle of the night to an unmarked field to find that the horse hasn’t been caught,  a minor is standing in as the horse’s handler or you only have truck headlights for illumination.

Ask if the area you’ll be working in has power and ample lighting. Keep a good headlight and a portable, multi-directional work light with a stand in your vehicle at all times for illuminating unlit or poorly lit barns. Perhaps even consider a model with a rechargeable battery-powered option in the event electricity is unavailable.

4. Have the right tools on hand

Increasing efficiencies in emergency responses, especially for horses with fever, wounds, swelling or ADR, is vital. A stall-side diagnostic tool can fast-track the identification of an infection in a sick horse to help you determine the course of treatment.

The Stablelab® EQ-1 Handheld Reader is a stall-side diagnostic tool that accurately quantifies Serum Amyloid A (SAA) in 10 minutes to help detect, monitor and screen horses for infection.3 An SAA reading of >50 µg/dL can indicate an infection that warrants additional diagnostics so that you can make decisions on the spot and reduce the number of follow-up trips to the farm.

In this fast-paced, instant-gratification environment, having near-instantaneous data for horse owners to give everyone peace of mind that you’re helping to provide a comprehensive emergency response to the horses in your care.

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  1. The Fluvac Innovator line had the most doses sold of all equine influenza vaccine lines on the market. Animalytix Segment Data, Equine Vaccines, MAT June 2022 (Accessed November 20, 2022).
  2. Zoetis Inc. Data on file. Study report no. 14OREQBIO-1.
  3. Validation Data On File. TI-04856.

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