Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Catastrophic Injury, Suffering Horse, No Access to Vet

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

Code Green - Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources

  • Talk to your vet about what do, should this situation occur in the future.

You face a difficult situation if your horse has sustained an obviously catastrophic or fatal injury, appears to be suffering greatly, or poses a risk to handlers – and you cannot reach your vet for assistance.

Equine vets are generally very accessible, but sometimes they are not. When absent, most vets leave emergency contact information or refer to another local vet. But mishaps do occur. In my own case, my answering service has broken down or I have been out of cellular service and unreachable.

Keep in mind that sometimes a horse may appear to be in terrible pain with little hope for recovery, when in fact the problem is easily resolved. I have been asked to euthanize horses that looked like they were suffering terribly, but ended up having nothing more than a severe sole abscess or intestinal gas accumulation, both being very treatable conditions. As I emphasize elsewhere, this is why a diagnosis is so important.

In contrast, catastrophic injuries that warrant consideration of euthanasia include wounds to the belly with intestine exposed, loss of a limb, or open fracture of a limb with protruding bone. Euthanasia may also be necessary if your horse is a significant hazard to itself or its handlers based on violent or uncontrollable, self-destructive behavior.


If you are faced with a catastrophe and cannot reach your vet leave messages for your own vet and other local vets explaining the severity of the situation. Leave clear contact information to allow them to reach you. Then stay by the phone and stay off the phone so that you are reachable.

If you have medications such as bute or Banamine® (flunixin meglumine), you may give them to the horse for temporary pain relief. A standard pain relieving dose of Banamine® (intramuscular flunixin meglumine) is 1ml for every 100 lbs (10ml for a 1000 lb horse). For Banamine® paste, the standard pain relieving dose is calculated by weight as well, and is dosed based on the syringe dial. The standard dose for bute is approximately 2 grams for a 1000 lb horse (500kg).

Try to comfort the horse, while still looking out for your personal safety. Depending on the circumstances, you may be able to wait for assistance. However, if veterinary assistance is still unlikely or impossible you may want to consider euthanizing the horse yourself. See the related linked skills for more information.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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