Katie Hennessy

Urgent Horse Emergencies

Equine diseases and injuries can cause major issues with your horse’s health, so it’s important to be proactive in preventing and treating problems before they get out of hand. At Polk Equine, we strongly recommend that every horse owner develop a good working relationship with their veterinarian. 



Colic is a general term for abdominal pain and there are numerous causes such as ulcers, torsions, sand, and impactions.  Horses that graze on sandy soil can consume enough sand that it irritates and collects in the colon, causing sand colic. Significant changes in weather can alter the amount of water your horse drinks which can cause dehydration. Whatever the cause, colic needs to be treated immediately. 


Signs to watch for include lethargy, diarrhea, dry/tacky gums, pawing, looking at their flanks, and excessive lying down. Banamine is often used as a first step in treatment, but it’s important to remember that it can cover up signs and not actually fix a problem. If you decide to give your horse banamine, let your veterinarian know that you may need them and take all food away from your horse. They should be allowed free access to water. Depending on your horse’s pain level and duration of signs, your vet may need to see the horse to give laxatives and fluids. Severe cases can require surgery. 


While most horses that receive prompt treatment survive colic episodes, prevention is key. Adding electrolytes to the water can help encourage drinking, and sweeping the feeder mats can decrease the amount of sand consumed. 


Respiratory Problems

Rhinopneumonitis and Influenza are the equine equivalents of the common cold/flu, but they need to be taken seriously so they do not develop into a more severe issue. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), commonly known as “heaves,” is an allergic reaction that worsens the more the animal is exposed to an allergen. It can be hard to distinguish between respiratory causes because the symptoms are similar. 


Symptoms that indicate respiratory issues include fever, cough, nasal discharge, and lethargy. A horse with COPD will often develop a “heave line” along the bottom of the belly due to the overworking of the abdominal muscle caused by hard breathing. Call your veterinarian if the symptoms persist past a few days, or if the horse’s temperature goes above 101 degrees Fahrenheit.


Treatment will depend on the cause of the illness affecting the horse and may involve antibiotics, bronchodilators, corticosteroid drugs, and general supportive care. The best way to prevent respiratory illnesses is to isolate your horses from new horses, provide ample ventilation in a clean stall, and maintain appropriate vaccinations.


Colic and respiratory issues are common complaints and should be addressed without delay.

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