Find out how to stock your equine medicine cabinet simply and sensibly.
A quick Internet search for how to put together an equine first aid kit yields plenty of results, with a long list of potential medications and equipment. Horse-Canada asked Michael Stephenson, DVM, of Brelmar Veterinary Clinic in Sunderland, ON, which supplies every horse owner should have in their equine medicine cabinet.
Stephenson says keep it simple. There is no need to stock up on medications that will likely go out of date before they are used, or purchase expensive instruments when less expensive versions will do just as good a job. Stick to the basics, most of which can be found at feed and tack stores, or even around your house. All of these items will assist you in treating minor injuries or providing first aid until your veterinarian arrives.
Antibiotic Eye Ointment
You should have an antibiotic ophthalmic eye ointment on hand, either designed for horses or humans. Avoid products that contain steroids though, because with conditions such as corneal lacerations or ulcers, steroids can impede the healing process. There is no downside to applying an antibiotic cream to any eye irritation or condition, but those containing steroids should only be used if prescribed by a veterinarian, following examination.
Oral bute (aka phenylbutazone) is primarily used for musculoskeletal pain and is not as effective in cases of abdominal pain, such as colic. It is inexpensive and can be given in either powder or paste form.
The powder can be added to grain or pellets, but for those fussy horses who refuse medicated feed, paste is a reasonable alternative. You can mix your own with the bute powder and water, which can be administered using a syringe.
Some people may wish to keep at least a syringe of banamine (aka flunixamine) in case of colic or acute onset of lameness/pain such as a pulled tendon, for example. The syringe can be stored in the refrigerator, but for no longer than three to four months.
In most cases, there is no reason to keep oral or injectable antibiotics, like penicillin, on hand. More often than not the medication will go out of date before it is used. Further, the average horse owner would likely consult a veterinarian in an instance that would require antibiotics and, therefore, be prescribed the appropriate drug and dosage.
Some people use a tranquilizer, such as acepromazine, to sedate their horse for trailering or to clean his sheath, for example. But most horses get by just fine without it, so there is no need to keep a supply on hand.
In most cases, products containing steroids should only be used when prescribed by a veterinarian.
Surgical scrub, a mixture of povidone-iodine and detergent, is great for the initial cleansing of a wound. Surgical solution is similar, but does not contain detergent, which is helpful for removing dirt and debris. The solution makes a good antiseptic for follow up care.
Wound gels are said to speed up healing, promote moisture and prevent the formation of excessive granulation tissue (proud flesh). Both medicinal and herbal versions are available. Some can be applied immediately to a fresh wound, while others indicate that the wound should be cleaned and dried first.
Liniments are typically used to provide temporary relief from minor aches and pains and come in both hot and cold. In general, cold therapy should be used on new injuries and as a preventative measure after intensive work, whereas hot therapy can benefit older injuries and conditions such as arthritis.
Because some horses have sensitive skin, it is advisable to test some of the product on a small area the first time you use it and monitor for adverse reaction before applying over a large area, like the horse’s back, for example. In addition, never use liniments on or near open wounds.
Fly sprays and pastes should be used with caution, avoiding the eyes and any open wounds. Apply using a cloth to sensitive areas. Finding the one that works best for your horse takes some experimentation.
Hydrogen peroxide is not ideal to use on a fresh wound, as it can sometimes impede the healing process.
Wound powders and sprays can be irritating to healing tissue and, therefore, slow the healing process.
It is helpful to think of bandaging supplies from the wound out. First, you will need 4×4 gauze squares, followed by breathable cling gauze, which comes in a roll, for padding. Next, cover with vet wrap for added protection. Sometimes, vet wrap can slide on the hair, so it’s a good idea to secure it with tape. White, one-inch surgical tape is a good choice, but duct tape will work in a pinch.
Wraps should be kept aside for bandaging over poultices and sweats and for support in leg injuries.
Thermometer – the first thing your veterinarian will ask when you call about a sick horse is ‘What’s his temperature?’ You can purchase an inexpensive digital thermometer from the drug store. They are also useful for monitoring a horse under ongoing care.
Stethoscope – a stethoscope is not only useful for monitoring pulse rate, but for assessing the presence or absence of gut sounds. You can purchase one from the feed or tack store for $20-$30 that will work just fine.
Syringes – a 60cc syringe with a catheter tip works well for administering oral medications. You can crush up pills and mix them with water as opposed to adding the medicine to feed. In addition, you can use a syringe to help irrigate a wound.
Scissors – bandage scissors are useful, but not necessary, as any decent pair of scissors will suffice.
Sterilize Your Instruments
Before and after use, you should sterilize your instruments with surgical scrub to remove any contamination. Next, wipe with alcohol, let dry and place in a sterile container.
Ice packs – whether specifically designed for horses or not, ice packs are very useful for dealing with most new injuries, certainly any swelling, bruising or tendon issues.
Epsom salts – Epsom salts poultices and soaks are useful in treating abscesses, soothing sore muscles and reducing swelling. Avoid contact with open wounds, however.
Sunscreen – be careful when applying sunscreen to avoid irritable areas such as the eyes. Non-irritating topical zinc is a good option.
Bucket/bowl – a bucket or bowl wide and deep enough to soak a hoof is ideal.
Gloves – stock up on rubber gloves to use when dealing with wounds.
Plastic wrap – this can be useful when trying to sweat a leg, applied over liniment or furacin cream, for example. Approach with caution, however, and seek advice first. If you leave it on too long, you can cause irritation or blistering.
Diapers – a diaper can serve as a makeshift poultice pad or to cover a wound if need be.
Duct tape – we all know duct tape can be used for anything. With horses, it is especially useful to wrap hooves and secure bandages.
Petroleum jelly – petroleum jelly can be used to cover wounds and repel moisture and can also serve as a lubricant for inserting a thermometer.
Distilled water – a jug of distilled water is good to have on hand for cleaning wounds.
Anti-bacterial shampoo – any type of anti-bacterial shampoo can be for cleaning wounds and surrounding area before and after treatment.
Plastic bags – sealable plastic bags are great for storing sterile instruments in.
Tweezers – a pair of stainless steel tweezers are helpful for removing debris from wounds.
Kettle – keep a kettle handy for boiling water in the barn when needed.
Hints on Storage & Shelf Life
Always be sure to check each product’s instructions for information on storage and shelf life. Failure to do so could result in ineffective treatment or ill side effects for your horse.
- Some products can be damaged by temperature extremes and/or fluctuations as well as light or humidity, for example. Such exposure can alter the chemical composition and reduce potency, shelf life and safety of the products.
- Those products which require refrigeration should be kept in an appliance dedicated to livestock medications in order to avoid contaminating food items intended for human consumption. Keep a thermometer inside to ensure the unit is functioning.
- Pay close attention to expiry dates, as out of date medications can be ineffective, or worse, toxic, to your horse because the chemical composition of products can change over time.