First Aid Planning for Large Animals

Published: April 12, 2013
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Last week we discussed tips to help prepare for emergencies on a farm, such as natural disasters. This week, let’s talk about how to prepare for animal emergencies. No emergency situation is ever the same, but there are a few guidelines that are good to keep in mind for every situation, no matter if it’s a dog or a bull that needs emergency veterinary care.

  1. Know your vital signs.

    For whatever species you happen to have, knowing the vital signs for that species is extremely helpful when evaluating an animal in an emergency situation. If you have trouble remembering numbers, at least have them printed out and kept in a tack or feed room for reference. This sort of information is great to pass along to your vet when you first call her as well. Here are some basic guidelines to get you in the ballpark:

  2. Address active bleeding.

    If large quantities of blood are being lost, make a reasonable attempt to stop it with something relatively clean like a rag or T-shirt. Many times, wounds look worse than they really are, especially if blood has dried dramatically over the animal’s skin. A quick wash from a hose can help locate the actual source of the blood (which may be different than what you first suspect) but it may also remove a clot, so be prepared for fresh bleeding if this is the case.

    However: always, always, always use safety first. If there’s a laceration on the hind leg of a bucking bull, please, wait for the vet.

  3. Remember the CQC Rule: Calm, Quiet, and Clean.

    You’ll notice nowhere in this blog today will I describe how to administer CPR to a cow or perform an emergency tracheotomy in a stallion — because you can’t do it. Large animals are just too, well, large, for some of the more heroic displays of medical action reminiscent of the TV show ER. And while I have successfully given CPR to lambs, it was only because they were small enough to perform chest compressions on.

    Given this, one of the most important bits of ER advice is to STAY CALM. This is especially important since all large animal farm species are prey species. If people are running around frantically, this usually only gets the animal that much more upset. By far the best thing you can do for your animal is to be quiet and calm, which, in turn, helps keep everyone safe, which trumps everything else.

  4. Control the environment.

    Often, emergencies occur both at the most inopportune time and in the most inconvenient of places. When you first encounter an injured animal, take note of the environment for clues to what may have happened. Then evaluate whether you should move the animal.

    I generally recommend that if there’s an obvious broken bone, try not to move the animal. Otherwise, it’s best to get it in the barn, preferably in a well-lit, dry, spacious area (note this might not mean the stall). Clear clutter as best you can while you’re waiting for the vet and try to minimize on-lookers if they’re not actively engaged in helping. Take charge of the situation and give people things to do: getting water, getting flashlights, finding extension cords, etc.

  5. Have a well-stocked first aid kit.

    I’ll leave you this week with a non-exclusive list of items that are generally good to keep in a first aid kit.

    The most important piece of advice I can leave in regards to such a kit: do not use it for regular needs! Often I see people borrowing things out of first aid kits and then forgetting to replenish them, leaving the kit in a pitiful state when it’s actually needed for an emergency.

    Here are some basics to get you started:

    • extra halter and lead rope
    • latex exam gloves
    • rectal thermometer
    • 3 – 4 rolls of Vetwrap
    • 4”x4” gauze squares
    • stethoscope
    • flashlight
    • veterinarian’s phone number
    • triple antibiotic eye ointment
    • all-purpose antibiotic wound salve
    • duct tape
    • clean towels of various sizes (large, small)
    • bottle of sterile saline wash
    • bottle of povidone iodine or other surgical scrub
    • tweezers
    • scissors or pocketknife
    • pen and paper

Dr. Anna O’Brien

Image: WilleeCole / via Shutterstock