With sunshine and melting snow comes fresh green grass pastures. While green grass is highly nutritious and a favorite of our horses, it is not without its perils. Green grass has a very high sugar content and is highly fermentable when undergoing digestion. This means that it produces a lot of gas and can cause subsequent diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramping in the horse. Signs of colic (belly pain) are stretching, pawing, looking at sides, posturing to urinate without actually urinating and rolling on the ground. If you see these signs, call your veterinarian immediately. Many grass colics can be treated easily and without much expense if they are recognized early enough.
Green, growing grass stores high levels of sugar that can cause inflammation and pain in the hoof lamina. In spring pastures, sugar content is highest in the late afternoon and early evening. Horses who have been on hay or dry brown pasture all winter should be gradually re-introduced to green grass in order to prevent sugar overload and inflammation of the hoof lamina resulting in laminitis (“grass founder”). We recommend turning horses out on green grass for 2-3 hours in the morning for the first week. After this, grazing time can be increased 2 hours a day each week until the horse is turned out 6-8 hours a day. It is important to note that not only over-weight or cresty necked horses can get grass induced laminitis. It can happen to any horse. Signs of grass induced laminitis/founder are reluctance to walk, lameness, “tip toeing” in front feet, standing with a rocked-back on hind limb posture in an effort to take weight off front feet. Most of these horses are VERY lame on gravel or hard surfaces and slightly less lame in pasture or soft footing. If you see these signs, call your veterinarian immediately.
It’s a beautiful sunny spring afternoon, the snow is finally melting and it’s warm enough to go riding without so many layers that you can’t get on your horse. You sneak out of work an hour early and make a beeline for the pasture to catch your horse. As you approach the gate you can see that something is wrong. “Lucky” is not standing at the gate to meet you as usual, instead he is in the middle of the pasture, head down and blood gushing from a wound on his leg.
This is an unfortunately common scenario. Horses are accident prone animals. Emergencies ranging from lacerations and wounds to episodes of colic are quite common and often times require immediate emergency veterinary care to create the most promising outcome. Below are a few helpful tips and pieces of information that will greatly help your veterinarian assess the situation and guide you through the steps of getting the horse safely and quickly to the veterinary clinic.
If there is a wound
- Stop bleeding – cover the wound with baby diapers, bandage wraps, gauze or towels. Secure in place with vet wrap or duct tape. Even if bandages soak through quickly, don’t remove them; simply add more bandage over top.
- Do not move the horse more than is absolutely necessary- try to get a horse trailer as close to the horse as possible. If the horse has to walk, make sure that the wound is covered as best as possible to avoid dirt and debris.
- Perform a quick exam – take a deep breath and look at the horse
- Attitude- alert, responsive, looking around or quiet, head hanging
- Flip the horses lip up and press your finger to the gum just above the front teeth. The gum should be a pale pink and moist. When you press, the gum should blanch to white and return to pink in less than 2 seconds.
- Heart Rate – use your stethoscope or place your hand over the left chest wall just behind the horses elbow. Count heart beats for 15 seconds and multiply by 4 to get beats per minute. Normal for a horse is 36-48 heart beats in a minute.
- Breathing rate – watch the horses flank and count how many times he breathes over 30 seconds. Normal is 10-30 breaths/min
- Gut sounds (only important if you think the horse is colicking)- if you have a stethoscope listen for digestion (toilet flushing sounds) on either side of the horses belly and along the back between the horses ribs and flank. You should be able to quickly and easily hear sounds.
- Now, call the veterinarian and explain to them what is going on with the horse. Your vet will be very appreciative of the above information and have a clearer picture of the level of emergency. S/he will ask you several more questions and formulate a safe next step treatment plan for you and your horse.