Equine First Aid Kits
By: Greg Abreu DVM
I often have clients ask me what should be in their first aid kits for horses, and as many things veterinary related, ask 10 people and you will get 10 different answers. After years of answering this question, and changing my mind numerous times along the way, I have finally settled upon the key ingredients any good first aid kit should have. By following the recommendations below, you should have all the supplies you need to stabilize your companion until you can have them seen by a veterinarian.
Let’s begin with the musculoskeletal system. Every first aid kit should contain ample bandaging supplies: sterile Telfa (non-adhesive) pads, triple antibiotic ointment (my preference) or Furacin ointment, conforming bandage, cotton padding, brown gauze, and vet wrap are a must. That will provide more than enough material to treat 95% of the field emergencies you encounter. For the more ambitious kits, Elastikon conforming bandage is helpful as well to provide strength and flexibility on the nasty lacerations over the hock or carpus. And never forget your duct tape. Everybody’s favorite silvery tape forms a nice water resistant and tough boot to temporarily bandage (over your standard wrap, of course) those puncture wounds to the sole. A small bottle of Betadine scrub and solution are handy as well to provide initial cleaning of the wounds. A tube of Bute paste is also recommended to provide some pain relief, especially if you need to trailer your horse 3 hours to the local veterinarian. Remember, Bute is a prescription drug; you will have had to had your horse seen by a veterinarian recently to obtain some.
We will now venture our way up the horse to the gastrointestinal system. By far the most common emergency in the horse world is the colic. Now, most of the time, this happens at home, and you can get your horse seen relatively quickly by your local vet; but what happens when you are 4 hours away from the nearest clinic? The first thing you should have is a cheap stethoscope to listen for gut sounds and heart rate; your vet can show you how to listen for these if you ask nicely. The two most common field treatment drugs are Banamine and electrolytes. If your horse appears dehydrated, a tube of electrolyte paste is a good way to encourage your horse to drink. Never add electrolytes to their water unless they have a second bucket of fresh water available. Some horses would rather dehydrate than drink for a salty bucket of water. If your horse is very painful from colic, Banamine paste can be used to temporarily give them some relief. Banamine is another prescription drug, so you will need to get some from your regular veterinarian, who can also give you recommendations as to dose and criteria for when to use.
Another common area of injury is the eye. Eyes should always be considered an emergency and should be seen as soon as possible (as in hours, not when you return from your trip). There are numerous antibiotic ointments available to use, but I generally recommend two in your kit. Terramycin ophthalmic ointment is an over the counter ointment that offers some antimicrobial properties, and will not interfere with any ointments that your veterinarian may need to prescribe. Bacitracin-Neomycin-Polymyxin (NBP or BNP) is a prescription ointment available only from your veterinarian. Personally I prefer this ointment, but again, you must consult your veterinarian for the appropriate times to use this antibiotic.
Some other first aid items that are recommended are digital thermometers and space blankets. Having a temperature reading along with heart rate, respiration rate, and gut sounds is valuable information for your veterinarian. Space blankets are useful if you have a foal to keep them warm. A pair is needed for a full size horse. A small water bottle with a squirt nozzle is especially nice to have on a ride, where an injury may occur and no water is readily available for cleaning the wound.
With the above items, you should be well prepared for what surprises life has in store for you and your horse. By being prepared to administer the proper first aid, you give your horse, and yourself, the best chance at a favorable outcome.
Dr. Greg Abreu is a graduate of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. He practiced large animal medicine in the Bay Area for eight years before joining the staff at Meadow Vista Veterinary Clinic in 2010. We are very excited and fortunate to have Dr. Greg at our practice.