Treating Shock Until the Vet Arrives
Breath of Life with a Cutting Torch
© 1995, Willis & Sharon Lamm
Severe shock, which can result from a variety of accidental or medical causes, is a true life-threatening event. Circulation is depressed and sufficient oxygen isn't getting to the brain and vital organs. If left untreated, severe shock can lead to permanent damage or death.
With humans, we can dial 9-1-1 and receive prompt care from the nearest ambulance, rescue squad or fire department. Oxygen can be administered until the victim can be given drugs and fluids by paramedics or emergency room personnel. With our animals, we have to be more self reliant. We can haul the small ones in to the vet. With the larger ones, we usually have to do the best we can until the mobile veterinarian arrives.
Everyone who owns livestock should have some owner oriented veterinary books on hand along with some basic first aid supplies. When an emergency occurs, these resources will offer some kind of positive action which can be taken until the vet arrives.
Here's one action you probably won't find in the "do-it-yourself" veterinary books. In the event of severe shock, particularly if the vet is a long way off, you may also need to improvise some oxygen therapy.
Signs of Shock:
As a result of shock, oxygen is not sufficiently profused to the brain and vital organs. In horses, blood can pool at dangerous levels in the intestines. Proper care must be provided immediately.
First, call your local vet and advise him/her of the emergency. Most vets nowadays have pagers and cellular phones so you shouldn't have to wait a long time for a contact.
Next, take appropriate action. Keep the animal comfortable and quiet.
Your animal's temperature control system won't be working, so protect him/her from overheating or from chilling. In cases of shock resulting from heat stroke, wetting down with cool, not cold, water is indicated. In other instances, providing shade from direct sunlight should be sufficient. Move the horse to shade while it can still walk, or rig up some form of shade cloth if the animal is already down. If you are on a gentle slope when the horse needs to lay down, try to encourage it to lay in a direction where its head is lower than the rest of its body.
If the onset of shock immediately follows vaccinations or insect stings, administering epinephrine is indicated. (If you give your own shots, epinephrine should be a part of your first aid kit.)
Follow all applicable directions given to you by your vet, and/or provided in your veterinary books and manuals.
At this point about the only remaining aspect of the emergency that you can control until the vet arrives is the amount of oxygen being carried in the animal's depressed circulatory system.
Improvising Oxygen Therapy:
Does it Work?
We initiated our cutting torch oxygen therapy. By the time the vet had arrived the dog had some pupil response and his other vital signs were starting to improve. The vet administered steroids and a liter of normal saline by IV, and we continued oxygen therapy for about an hour.
By the next day, the dog could move about and a week later was taking care of business around the ranch. Except for some loss of stamina, he fully recovered and "stayed with us" for some time, patrolling the ranch as he always liked to do.
Applying Oxygen Yourself:
If you decide to improvise oxygen therapy, be sure to consider the following guidelines:
Ride safely and enjoy yourself!
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