How to deal with equine shock

  • Shock in horses (equine shock) is extremely serious and is commonly associated with trauma, pain and infection, as well as major fluid loss.

    When a horse goes into shock, the body’s response includes shutting down the circulatory system, depriving the body of oxygen and leading to major organ failure, and ultimately, death.

    Any injury associated with great fear is likely to trigger the condition, as well as blood loss, dehydration and a serious colic or infection, which overwhelms the body with a flood of toxins.

    Vet Karen Coumbe, of Bell Equine Veterinary Clinic in Kent, says: “Severe dehydration is relatively rare in this country. Shock is most frequently a killer in relation to colic, as a result of pain, stress and bacterial leakage from a twisted gut.”

    Symptoms to look out for include:

    • Rapid breathing
    • Shaking and shivering
    • A weak pulse
    • Pale or blue mucous membranes
    • Extremities feel cold (eg: ears)

    Treating equine shock

    If you suspect your horse is suffering from shock, seek urgent veterinary help. Any obvious wounds or injuries should be treated appropriately, while keeping the horse calm.

    If the horse is showing signs of cold, keep him warm in a stable with rugs, but make sure he doesn’t become overheated.

    Ensure there is an adequate supply of fresh, clean water and encourage the horse to drink, if possible, as dehydration is a common cause.

    The vet will need to establish the cause quickly and take appropriate action to treat the condition. Serious infections will need antibiotics and possibly other drugs, while any source of bleeding will need to be found and stopped.

    Treatment for the condition of shock will normally include the administration of fluids, and if the horse is unable to drink, he will need hospitalisation in order to administer these intravenously in sufficiently large quantities (40-80 litres per day).

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