When to call the vet

The vets and nurses at Bell Equine provide 24-hour cover, 365 days a year for the horses and ponies under their care.

Unfortunately, during the current the global outbreak of coronavirus, our usual way of working has had to change in light of government guidlines, but we hope to return to normal as soon as possible. We are of course still providing our 24hour, 7 days a week emergency service during this time.

To provide this degree of care means that sometimes the vet who gets called out at night, may be working at least some of the following day, so we ask you to only call us out of hours IF YOU HAVE A GENUINE EMERGENCY THAT NEEDS URGENT AND IMMEDIATE TREATMENT. If you are unsure whether you have a genuine emergency, you can contact the duty vet by calling our normal number 01622 813700, and press 1 to be put through to our pager service who will arrange for the duty vet to call you to discuss your concerns. Vets are trained to ask the right questions but are dependent on you being able to provide accurate answers. It is very helpful if the horse owner or carer can make some basic assessments of their own before calling the vet.

The sort of things we need to know include:

  • How lame is the horse? Is it lame at rest (ie non-weight bearing)? Lame at walk? Lame at trot? Is there any heat or swelling in the leg?
  • How much pain is a horse in? What is the frequency and duration of any signs of pain? For example, in colic, signs of mild pain include lying down, turning to look at the flank, pawing the ground; signs of moderate pain include rolling, restlessness, getting up and down frequently; signs of severe pain include violent rolling and pawing, sweating
  • Can you take your horse’s temperature and pulse rate? What is their breathing like?
  • If there is a wound, specifically where on the horses’ body is it? Do the edges of the wound pull apart? Is it clean or dirty?

The answers to these questions can significantly assist the vet in deciding when an emergency visit is required.

What basic conditions constitute an emergency?

BLUE FLASHING LIGHT: Immediate call to BEVC required:

  • Fractured limb
  • A collapsed horse that is recumbent and unable to stand
  • Non-weight bearing lameness coupled with distress
  • Non-weight bearing lameness coupled with a wound
  • Multiple limb non-weight bearing lameness
  • Wounds that require stitching – do the edges pull apart, is wound less than 12hrs old?
  • Colic pain that is moderate or violent and/or continuous
  • Diarrhoea that is continuous and/or painful
  • Choke where coupled with obvious distress
  • Sudden or severe inability to breathe normally
  • Punctured or ulcerated eye or sudden onset blindness
  • Continuous bleeding from mouth, nostrils, rectum, vagina, penis, or an arterial bleed (i.e. you can no longer count the drips)
  • Sudden onset of severe neurological dysfunction, e.g. staggering, disorientation lack of coordination or profound behaviour change
  • Difficulties at foaling
  • A sick foal, especially if it will not feed from the dam

RED LIGHT: Calls that are urgent and we recommend that you contact BEVC WITHIN A FEW HOURS:

These conditions need prompt attention but can frequently be managed with prescribed first aid until a vet can see the horse:

  • Low grade fever
  • Sudden onset lameness that is weight bearing
  • Traumatic injuries and wounds that are superficial, away from vital structures and not compromising vital functions
  • Mild colic
  • Acute laminitis
  • Potential lymphangitis, i.e. increasingly filled leg and lameness
  • Signs of vague ill health such as poor appetite, dullness and reduced production of droppings. One exception to this may be donkeys who stop eating but show minimal other signs yet be suffering from the serious metabolic condition known as hyperlipidaemia.  Click here to go to the Donkey sanctuary web site.
  • Flare ups of chronic laminitis
  • Flare ups of chronic inflammatory respiratory disease

AMBER: Routine calls to BEVC on a scheduled basis should include:

  • Intermittent and slight lameness
  • Persistent dermatitis (skin problems)
  • Intermittent and slight eye discharge with no sign of pain or reduced vision
  • Reduced appetite with no other clinical signs
  • Nasal discharge with no fever or difficulty breathing
  • Persistent coughing
  • Anything else out of the ordinary that concerns you regarding your horse, pony or donkey

In summary

We recommend you minimise the risk of emergency calls and ensure your horse remains in good health by adopting a proactive preventative health care approach, including regular vaccination, parasite control, dental care, good nutrition and perfect management for your horse.

Even if you are not there yourself to see the vet, please make sure all essential information is available in case of an emergency. This should include:

  • Clear instructions about what to do and who is responsible if you are not available to consult about your horse
  • Your horse’s passport preferably signed, etc
  • Your horse’s passport
  • Information regarding insurance cover
  • An agreed arrangement with the practice regarding payment for emergency treatment. If you do not have a clear account you may be asked to pay at the time either with cash or by credit card.

In addition to the basic emergency service commitments, our equine vets also provide emergency cover for cases referred to our specialist equine hospital by other vets so there are always several vets and one equine nurse on duty. In addition there is a vet on site to look after our inpatients at all times. Also, we are on call for point to points, events and other equestrian pursuits that often take place over a weekend, so we do not carry out routine visits outside normal office hours. Frequently more than one emergency may occur simultaneously and our staff to trained to prioritise calls they receive, so that the most serious cases can be dealt with first.

Finally on a lighter note, one thing that hasn’t changed since the days of James Herriot: A vet on an out of hours callout will always appreciate the provision of half a bucket of warm water, soap and a clean towel as well as the offer of a cup of tea or coffee!

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