Large Animal Medical Emergencies
October 2008 Seminar
Presented by Daniel Grove, D.V.M
West Coast Equine Medicine, Inc.
Sponsored by the Deer Springs Fire Safe Council
BASIC SAFETY RULES DURING AN EMERGENCY
• BE CALM: The number one rule to remember is do not panic. As when you ride your horse, panic
travels down the lead line or reins and transfers to the horse. The situation is usually not life or death
unless you make it that way.
• CALL FOR HELP: The 24 Hour Emergency numbers for Animal Services are (1.) North County 760-
438-1460 & (2.) South & Central County 619-236-2341 They will often contact San Diego Humane
Animal Rescue Reserve (AAR). You can call Animal Rescue Reserve (AAR) directly at 619-299-0871
on their 24 Emergency Hotline. Put these numbers into your cell phone now.
• STAY INFORMED: Cal Fire has a fire information # at 619-590-3160. Deer Springs Fire Council
has a hotline # 949-472-1407. Be sure you are signed up with the San Diego County for their Reverse
911, including your cell phone # and email address. www.alertsandiego.org/
PRIOR TO AN EMERGENCY:
Have A Plan And Practice Your Plan:
• Keep 5 days of water and food stored. Changing food can cause stomach distress and diarrhea
and changing water can cause dehydration and dry colic because some horses can be fussy
about new water sources.
• Know all your evacuation routes, including the back routes.
• Have a truck and trailer to move your livestock. Or have a buddy lined up to trailer your animals.
• Be sure to train your horses to load into a trailer in all situations, day and night. Borrow a trailer
and practice beforehand.
• Train your horse to pony or be ponied if you don’t have a trailer or you need to ride out through an
area not accessible to vehicles.
• Purchase leather halters and have nametags with your name and telephone or cell phone
number attached. Nylon halters melt so do not use them.
Prepare Your Barn to Prevent Damage
• Have 100 feet of clearance. Trim trees away from the barn, remove standing weeds.
• Keep 1 or 2 fire extinguishers at the barn.
• Don’t store fuels or equipment that uses fuels in the barn.
• Keep 100 feet of garden hose hooked up at all times.
• Keep a ladder that will reach the highest spot of your barn (and house).
• Keep a sprinkler at the barn that you can set on the roof of the barn to put out embers.
• Store hay in a separate building at least 30 feet from the barn.
• Install a nozzle that will accept a fire hose.
• Check your electrical wiring annually.
• Use equipment at appropriate times. Early morning is usually safest. Do not cut weeds or use
the tractor when the Santa Ana’s are blowing, humidity is low or the temperatures are high.
When in doubt, call your local fire station to determine if it is safe to use equipment.
(Deer Springs Fire District is 760 749-8001.) Know the phone number of your Fire Station.
www.westcoastequinemedicine.com Page 2
Equine Evacuation Kit
• Water bucket
• Extra lead lines and halters
• Blankets-not of man-made materials, use 100% cotton or 100% wool.
• Leg wraps
• Daily medications for chronic conditions
• Extra hay and water
• Identification kit for your horse in a waterproof bag
• Pictures of you and your horse. You should take digital photos of your animals from both sides +
front & back. Print out copies and also email them to a friend.
• Microchip number
• Notes containing your contact information, health and behavioral information about your horse,
anything that might assist rescuers or veterinarians with the health and well being of your horse.
• If your horse kicks, a red ribbon to tie to the tail to warn others of the potential for injury.
Equine Health Issues during a Fire, Earthquake or Evacuation
• Colic is common so keep a good food and water supply to avoid digestive upset. Your
horse is more likely to eat its own food and drink its own water when moved to strange
• Keep calm (see the first item on the first page). Being calm yourself helps your horse
• If you don’t have chemical calming agents on hand, give your horse a small amount of
• Keep some Ace on hand. It is hard to overdose and drops the blood pressure. It is not a
true sedative, instead it reduces anxiety. It has a shelf life of 3 years or longer. To
determine if a stored drug is good, examine its appearance and texture. If it is cloudy, the
appearance has changed or there are particulates in the drug, it is not good. A bottle of
injectible Ace can be purchased for about $17 (2008). It is also available in pills, powder
• Natural calming agents are slow to act and may or may not work in a stressful situation.
To determine if they work on your animal, try them out beforehand.
• If you are using a chemical sedative, educate yourself on proper and appropriate dosage.
For example, Ace given to a stallion can cause priapism (a constant erection) or
paraphimosis that may ruin the stud. In this case you may simply want to rub eucalyptus
or vapor rub on their nose so they can’t smell the mares.
• Use water to extinguish flames and embers on a burning horse.
• A barefoot horse can walk quickly through embers without damaging their hoofs too
much. A hoof has up to 2/3 of an inch of dead keratin that has no moisture and
doesn’t conduct heat well. On the other hand, horse shoes will conduct heat through
to the horse’s hoof.
• Never use a synthetic blanket or fly mask to protect a horse from smoke and embers,
these materials melt and cause more damage than if the horse had been uncovered.
Use only natural fibers such as 100% cotton or 100% wool.
• Silver sulfadiazine is the best ointment to use on burns that are on areas that can be
bandaged. It is relatively expensive, $34 per pound (2008). It kills the bacteria that
are common in burns. This product will not cause proud flesh, but it will not inhibit it
either. Before bandaging, place a Telfa pad over the ointment so the bandage does
not stick to the wound.
• Use scarlet oil on areas that cannot be bandaged. Do not use scarlet oil if stitches
are required. This product is fairly cheap and can be found at most feed stores.
www.westcoastequinemedicine.com Page 3
• Proud flesh is caused when the basil membrane under the skin is compromised.
Some areas on the horse are more prone than others and drugs do not cause it to
• Bacterial infections caused by Pseudomonas bacteria are extremely common on burn
patients. This bacterial lives on the skin normally and enters the burns. This bacteria
is tough to kill and develops resistance quickly. Seek veterinary care immediately to
obtain appropriate antibiotics.
• Do NOT use steroids, dexamethazone, betamethazone and hydrocortisones on
burns. These inhibit the immune system and allow the deadly Pseudomonas
bacteria to grow.
• Keep saline solution on hand to flush debris out of the eye. Contact lens solutions
are perfectly fine substitutes for more expensive eye washes. This product does
expire, but it is ok to use anyway.
• Neosporin can be used in the eye for one or two doses. Use ophthalmic ointment
for long term treatments.
• Thimerasol additives have the potential to cause allergic reactions but most saline
solutions do not contain this additive.
• Do not use a fly mask to protect their eyes as nearly all are made from synthetic
materials that can melt and damage their sight.
• Nervousness usually causes a little diarrhea but horses usually hold enough water that it
does not cause concern.
• It is best to bring your own hay during an evacuation to keep the horses internal
organisms in balance.
• Keep probiotics on hand to supplement the gut bacteria when under stress. These are
expensive and have a short shelf life. The paste and powder forms are generally better
stabilized than the liquid forms. The shelf life is only 6 to 9 months so check the
expiration dates frequently.
• If possible, bring some of your own water to prevent dehydration and dry colic.
• Electrolytes and salts are good to give during weather changes. Bulk salt from Costco
works just as well. Provide 7-8 tablespoons two to three times daily to encourage
drinking during hot spells.
E. Smoke Inhalation
• Prevent smoke inhalation by evacuating early. Smoke is dense and contains
chemicals that cause long term respiratory distress.
• Use a dry cloth made of natural fibers to cover your horse’s nose. A wet cloth will
filter better, but if it gets hot, steam will burn your horse’s nose and respiratory tract.
• Don’t use the cloth if your horse objects. A calm horse with an uncovered face is at
less risk for injury than an excited horse with a covered face. (Practice with a cloth
when there is no emergency.)
• Signs of smoke inhalation include coughing, respiratory distress which is marked by
panting and fast rib cage movement. The horse needs oxygen but because of the
shape of their face, it is minimally helpful because masks are difficult to fit. Keeping
the horse calm and mellow is best. Call your veterinarian at the first opportunity.
• The best treatment for lung damage is intravenous fluids, but this must be monitored
by your veterinarian who will also be listening for fluid in the lungs as a sign of
pneumonia or leaking of fluid into the damaged lungs.
• Provide plenty of fresh, clean water to thin the mucus containing particulates the
horse will be coughing out.
www.westcoastequinemedicine.com Page 4
Smoke Inhalation (cont’d):
• If the horse has prolonged coughing, contact your veterinarian. It may need
• A general rule of thumb is that the horse will need one to two weeks after the cough
stops before it is exercised in order for its respiratory system to heal. Some horses
may need two to three months to cough out all the particulates, depending on their
proximity to the fire and the amount of debris in the smoke.
F. Other Medical Concerns
• Do not use caustic cleansers such as hydrogen peroxide or oils such as scarlet oil on
wounds that need to be stitched. Instead use Vasoline which traps the dirt and is easy to
clean. Do not rinse with water because the Pseudomonas bacteria thrive in moist
environments. If you feel you must clean the wound, add Betadine or Novalsan to the
water and let it sit for 5 to 10 minutes to disinfect the water.
• Butterfly stitches do not work on horses due to the toughness of their skin and the hair.
• It is most important to keep the wound clean and moist.
• Do not use Novalsan on wounds with exposed nerves as it can cause damage.
• Banamine and bute are from the same family of medications called NSAID’s. Giving
your horse both gives them a double dose and could cause kidney damage and ulcers.
Banamine is preferred to bute because it relieves colic. The horse relaxes not because
of the drug, but because the pain is relieved. A typical dose is 1 cc per 100 pounds of
horse. Each tube of banamine is good for a couple of years.
• Have a good relationship with your veterinarian.
G. Horse First Aid Kit
• Neosporin which can be used on topical wounds or briefly to treat an eye injury.
• Betadine or Novalsan in both solution and soap form. The solution can be used to
disinfect and the soap can be used to wash.
• Bandaging materials including Telfa pads, gauze, tape and vet wrap. Don’t overlook
substitutes such as women’s sanitary napkins and children’s diapers to cover oozing
• Duct tape.
• Scissors, a pocket knife or a utility tool.
• Banamine or Bute. Banamine is preferred.
• Cheap stethoscope ($10) is sufficient.
• Saline solution to flush eyes and wounds.
• Horse identification. Microchipping is best but you can use a grease pen, spray paint,
livestock stickers (they take up to 3 weeks to fall off). It was also suggested you could
use clippers to shave your telephone number or name on the horse.
For additional information visit www.deerspringsfiresafecouncil.com, “Large Animal Evacuation”.
You can download a 30 page booklet, “What do I do with my Horse in Fire, Flood, &/or Earthquake?”
Large Animal Medical Emergencies Seminar presented October 2008
Daniel Grove, D.V.M
West Coast Equine Medicine, Inc.