Life With The Equine Pager: What Happens Out Of Hours

We have a dedicated equine veterinary team that offers 24-hour cover 365 days a year. Find out what life is like during emergency call outs out of hours

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They are all experienced and fully trained to deal with equine emergencies. We typically attend to the horse at home and many emergency situations respond rapidly to treatment. However, there are some scenarios where we may need to admit your horse for further treatment to our inpatient facilities. Here is an insight into what happens within our out-of-hours service.

What Happens When Clients Ring Out Of Hours (OOH)?

When a client rings up the OOH service it goes through to a pager service where the client can speak to a real person. This person then takes information from the owner about what the concern is. The team are contacted by pager and text, and as a fail-safe clients are asked to ring back in 15 minutes if they haven’t heard from the vet.

Whilst we do not expect people to be able to decide for themselves whether or not they need a visit, we will try and advise them as best we can if we genuinely think the horse does not need to be seen there and then. We are more than happy to support with advice if that is what is needed. If our team believe a horse is well in themselves, eating, drinking and will be okay in their stable overnight, then we would recommend that they are visited in normal hours. However, if the owner is concerned that their horse isn’t doing well, our team will of course go to them out-of-hours.

A general rule of thumb, if you think you cannot leave your horse in its stable/a safe environment then they should probably be seen by one of our vets. This is called triaging and means the vets have to assess the case over the phone and work out how much of an emergency the situation is.

For example, illnesses like choke can look very dramatic to the owner as the horse may have spasms and fluid coming out of its nose or mouth but, in the vast majority of cases by the time the emergency vet gets there it has already fixed itself. In this instance we would typically give it half an hour and see how the horse is doing. However, if the owner is very unhappy and distressed, we will always pay a visit. At the other end of the scale, small wounds over joints may not look bad to the owners however can lead to joint infections so these often do require a visit.

It is important to us for people to know when to call the vet and to use us appropriately. We host interactive events as a way of providing owners with the right information and to help them deal with emergency situations. The more we empower the horse owner to use us appropriately the better the outcome will be.

As there is only usually one equine vet that is on call at a time, one of the main frustrations with the emergency line is if you are waking the vet up in the middle of the night for something that is a non-emergency then that vet has still to get up for work the next day or they could be delayed in treating a horse that is a real emergency.

What Happens When A Member Of The Team Is On Call?

Each member of the team is typically on call for 1 in 6 weekdays and weekends.

The equine vet on call takes the pager home when they finish at 6pm and keep it with them all night and return it the next day when their shift begins. Likewise, if they are on call at the weekend, they would have the pager with them the whole time. Each weekend varies as some can be a lot busier than others however, the team explained that it is very unusual/unlikely to get no calls at all. As well as calls, the vet on duty looks after the horses that are hospitalised going in for checks, medication and feeding.

Typically, the furthest the vet will travel is around 30-40 minutes in each direction from the practice. This is to ensure that if another emergency comes in in another direction there is a chance for the vet to get there. Our farm team also works closely with the equine team and occasionally triage equine emergencies if needed, in order for us to give the best emergency service we can. They also go with the horse vets at night to ensure people aren’t working alone. In some instances the horses will need further treatment or investigation and may need to be admitted.

Equine vets Kate and Rhiannah explained the more common emergency cases that they see:

  • Down horses
  • Colic
  • Wounds
  • Sick horses
  • Laminitis
  • Broken leg/fractures
  • Severe lameness
  • Wounds
  • Eye conditions – these can be dangerous if not treated quickly as horses’ eyes deteriorate rapidly
  • RTAs
  • Horses in a ditch/trapped
  • Foaling and post-foaling problems in breeding season

What Advice Is There For Clients To Ease Things In An Emergency?

The team would always advise to stay calm at all times as they need sensible and accurate information in order to help them get to you as quickly and efficiently as possible. It is also useful to let them know what facilities are around such as lights or running water as this can again speed up treatment times. It is a good idea for the client to have a friend or partner with them if they are extremely distressed so that the vet is able to get the right information. We would also recommend having the name of the stable and a nearby postcode written down in the stable or your phone so in a stressful situation all you need to do is read it. Ensuring your phone has enough battery is also important and if possible, give two phone numbers if you are with someone else just in case the vet cannot get hold of you.

For many situations it is best for the owners to stay away from their horse, wait for the vet and keep themselves safe. The last thing anyone wants to happen is for the vet turn up to both the horse and owner needing emergency treatment as they are not equipped for both!

What Are The Most Interesting Or Rewarding Cases You Have Dealt With OOH?

Kate and Rhiannah explained that the cases where you can go in, do something and see that you have immediately made a difference for the horse and their owner are often the most rewarding.

Examples include:

A horse was brought in to us due to him getting his mouth caught on a toy he was given in his stable. The team wired his jaw under sedation and wired his tooth back into his mouth. This is something that is really nice as you can see how much you can help the horse immediately so they can be comfortable and eat again.

Rhiannah spoke about a horse that had stopped eating completely. She explains that when she looked inside the horse’s mouth there was a twig stuck, which was cutting it’s tongue. Instantly, when this was removed, the horse began eating as normal!

A horse that Kate saw that ran into a gate and had a huge gash on its shoulder, at the time it looked very unpleasant, but the horse is now fine and has gone back to showjumping.

Kate and farm vet Chantal went to a horse with a prolapsed uterus which is something that is very common in cows but not horses.

It was a hugely intimidating situation, Kate handled the equine side of it by injecting the epidural and Chantal replaced the uterus. Both the mare and foal both survived.

All in all we see a huge range of cases. They are often rewarding to deal with and means we can make a difference to horses’ lives.

Out of hours emergency

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