When should you call the equine vet?

As a horse owner, one of the most important things to know is when it is necessary to call the vet in an emergency situation. Some emergencies are very obvious, but some situations can be questionable as to whether or not to have the vet come out right away. Here are a few of the most common emergency situations that should be treated by a vet as soon as possible:


Colic is the term used to describe any painful gastrointestinal problem. The signs of colic can be mild: not eating grain or hay, pawing, looking back at the flanks, or stretching out as if the horse is trying to urinate, or lowering the front end of the body like a cat stretches. More intense signs of pain can be rolling, thrashing, or continuing to lay down and get up, trying to get comfortable. There are many types of colic, some of which can be resolved on the farm or require referral to a hospital for further care. It is best to call if you notice your horse exhibiting signs of colic.

Eye Problems

Typical eye problems include corneal ulcers (a corneal “scratch”), uveitis, and lacerations involving the eyelids. While a lacerated eyelid is a very obvious emergency to an owner, a corneal ulcer or uveitis may have more subtle signs such as mild squinting and tearing, or more severe signs where the lids are swollen shut with lots of discharge coming from the eye. The sooner these problems can be seen the better, as even a small scratch in the eye can become a huge problem over night.

Problems with Foaling (Dystocia)

Foaling is an event that, under normal circumstances, happens relatively quickly in the horse, with “labor” only lasting about 20 minutes. However, when complications do arise, it is an emergency that is critical to the lives of both the mare and the foal. If the foaling process is taking longer than about 20 minutes, then it is an emergency and a vet needs to be called immediately.

Choke/Esophageal Obstruction

When a horse “chokes,” it means that there is an obstruction of the esophagus which prevents swallowing. Common signs of choke in horses is coughing, stretching out the head and neck, and copious discharge from the nose and/or mouth. Equine choke differs from human choke because even though the horse is distressed and uncomfortable, the horse can still breathe. Sometimes the horse is able to clear the choke on its own if allowed to stand quietly, but if it has not resolved in about 15-20 minutes you should call the vet.


Wounds are very common in horses, but some wounds need immediate veterinary care. Here’s when to call the vet:

  • If there is bleeding that cannot be stopped.
  • If the wound is over a joint.
  • If the wound is large and gaping.
  • If the wound is on a limb and there is significant swelling and/or lameness.
  • If the wound is deep or looks like it may be a puncture.
  • If you are unsure, it’s best to leave the wound alone and call the vet so that she may properly clean and examine it.

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