First and foremost, the most critical thing to remember is the internet is not a veterinarian. If you ever have a question about the overall welfare of the horse you are assisting, call your vet rather than seeking guidance from your favorite chat board or Google Search.
We’ve had people tell us that we are miracle workers with horses. We appreciate the complement, but we aren’t. We simply consult our vets often and follow their medical training and guidance. A good vet is a miracle worker—we appreciate all they do.
Emaciation rehabilitation can be challenging. There are two absolute items that you should never do when re-feeding in starvation. First, never feed a horse that doesn’t belong to you. If you aren’t working with the owner to bring this horse into your care then all you are doing is making it harder to prosecute a crime. Report it, don’t impede an investigation. Second, never start feeding a starved horse grain based horse feed. You can literally kill the horse with kindness.
We follow the American Association of Equine Practitioners Re-feeding Recommendations, and recommend this to anyone wishing to rehab a starved horse.
Slowly increase the amount of alfalfa and decrease the number of feedings so that by day six, you are feeding just over four pounds of hay every eight hours (total of 13 pounds per day in three feedings.)
Day 10 – Several Months
Feed as much alfalfa as the horse will eat and decrease feeding to twice a day.
Provide access to a salt block. Do not feed grain or supplemental material until the horse is well along in its recovery; early feeding of grain and supplemental material complicates the return of normal metabolic function and can result in death.
CLEAN FRESH WATER
All horses should have access to clean fresh water at all times. We recommend keeping a separate trough for your rehab horse so you can monitor water intake. Dehydration can happen quickly. A horse should drink 5 to 20 gallons a day. If you can isolate your horse and give it a water trough to itself that is the absolute best way to monitor consumption of water.
You deworm your horses regularly and know the importance of deworming. Wormy horses are slow to gain weight. It might seem natural that the first thing you should do with your rescue horse is deworm it. This actually ISN’T true. Deworming too fast can also have a host of consequences. A parasite control program, one of the most important management matters to be considered, must be established in consultation with a veterinarian. Horses with a BCS of 2 or lower should absolutely have a fecal egg count done prior to deworming and deworming should follow the protocol advised by the veterinarian in attendance.
While your vet is providing their initial exam, be sure to get a dental exam done. It will be too dangerous to have the teeth floated at this stage, as the horse should not be sedated. It will let you know if hay needs to be chopped/soaked to be able to be eaten though. When your horse is healthy enough to be sedated, then it is time for the dental float if there are sharp edges.
BE PREPARED FOR AN EMERGENCY
Be Prepared for an Emergency. When you rehab a horse, it is important that you know how to recognize serious problems. Choke or colic can happen and a vet will need to be called. Respond promptly, and take appropriate action while awaiting the arrival of the veterinarian. We recommend having a relationship with 2 or three vets, so if the first one you call is not available in case of emergency you have someone else you already know next on your call down list. If you have friends or relatives help at your barn you should keep a marker board with these important contacts on it. .
Prepare a first aid kit and store it in a clean, dry and readily accessible place. While a first aid kitcan be simple or elaborate, the following items are highly recommended:
• Cotton roll
• Contact bandage
• Gauze or cotton secondary dressing
• Gauze pads, assorted sizes*
• Gauze wrap
• Adhesive wrap and adhesive tape
• Leg wraps
• Bandage scissors
• Steel cup or container
• Rectal thermometer
• Surgical scrub and antiseptic solution
• Latex gloves
• Flashlight and spare batteries
• Permanent marker pen
These guidelines are just basics to help you get safely started.
If you would like to read more on the full set of guidelines followed by Safe Harbor, you can read the AAEP Guideance for Rescue and Retirement Facilities by clicking here.