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Large Animal First Aid

Posted: September 8, 2005

Animals seldom get hurt when it is a convenient time or at a convenient location. The impact of animal injuries or disease can often be greatly reduced with prompt and appropriate treatment.

Although it is impossible to predict all the possible scenarios when prompt treatment is necessary, a few basic principles can be applied to most situations. Therefore, it is wise for livestock owners to be prepared ahead of time with some basic knowledge and a few first aid items. Livestock owners should consult with their veterinarian to develop the skills and knowledge to treat common conditions as well as provide care in true emergency conditions until more skilled help can arrive. In this short narrative some common and emergency conditions will be described along with some suggestions for a livestock first aid kit.

Injured animals frequently do not behave as they normally do, so animal owners and caretakers need to be extra careful when dealing with hurt animals. Animals need to be restrained as is appropriate for the breed and animal condition. Proper restraint can help to prevent additional injuries to both the animal and the handler. Proper identification on each animal is also critical so that adequate records and follow-up can be achieved.

Cuts, scrapes, and puncture wounds are some of the most common traumatic injuries suffered by livestock. Wounds should be gently washed out with a mild skin cleanser with plenty of water or saline. Copious amounts of saline should be used to flush out any contaminated or dirty wounds. A large syringe with a large bore needle can be an effective tool to effectively irrigate wounds. If possible sterile saline is preferred over tap water, although water would work fine in most cases. Eye wash for use with contacts also comes in large containers and can be used effectively to irrigate wounds. Water soluble ointments with antiseptic properties are preferred. This type of ointment allows for faster healing vs. occlusive ointments or sprays that dry the tissue. Petroleum jelly based ointments should be reserved for use on very superficial wounds contain compounds that aren’t appropriate for use in food animals (nitrofurazone) or have withdrawal times, so producers should check active ingredients carefully prior to use.

Foreign objects can be flushed from eyes with body temperature saline. If the animal cannot be adequately restrained, it is frequently better to allow the veterinarian to tranquilize the animal prior to any attempt to treat eye injuries. Both the animal and handler risk injury when proper precautions are not in place prior to treating head and eye injuries.

Bleeding can normally be controlled with the use of several gauze sponges held over the wound with firm direct pressure. Gauze can be held in place with a wrap snug enough to hold the gauze and the organizing clot in place, but not so tight as to restrict blood flow to nearby normal tissue. Any bleeding that can’t be controlled with direct pressure or if bleeding resumes after several minutes of direct pressure, such wounds should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible for surgical correction. Compounds such as Blood Stopper Powder can be use on superficial wounds. These types of products should not be used in deep wounds or punctures. These products work by irritating the tissue and stimulating clotting. In deep wounds these products can cause excessive scarring, tissue damage, or abscessation.

Hooves can present special challenges on the farm. Wounds in hooves should be flushed clean. In many cases it is better to allow the wound in hooves to drain and that the animal is housed in a clean dry environment. In most cases this is a clean, dry box stall. Many veterinarians recommend an absorbent wrap cover the wound and that the wrap be changed every few days. A small child’s disposable diaper held on with duct tape can be an effective wrap. Other options might include some roll cotton with something like Vet Wrap®. With elastic type wraps it is important that the wrap not be placed on too tightly and constrict blood flow around the coronary band.

Ruminants are susceptible to bloat and precautions for free gas and frothy bloat are recommended in preparing for large animal emergencies. Frothy bloat is normally seen following the ingestion of large amounts of very succulent legume forages. Commercial products (e.g., Bloat Guard®) can be purchased. These products can be used as a drench to cause the froth to break down. Vegetable oil as a drench can provide a suitable substitute in a pinch. One cup to an adult sheep or goat and 3-4 cups to cattle. Free gas bloat can be relieved with a speculum and a garden hose through the animal’s mouth. Sometimes in an extreme case the use of a bloat trochar through the left flank of the animal into the rumen might be necessary. In these cases a disposable Screw type Bloat Trochar is much better than simply stabbing the rumen. The Screw Trochar is easy to use and holds the rumen wall against the skin while allowing the gas to escape. The risk of contamination in the abdomen is greatly reduced.

If animal caretakers are giving most of the vaccines to their own animals, they might want to discuss with their veterinarian if he/she believes it is advisable to have a limited supply of epinephrine on hand. Vaccine and injection reactions are very rare, but when then do occur, sometimes the only thing that will correct a severe allergic reaction is intramuscular epinephrine.

Suggested items for a Livestock First Aid Kit

The kit should be easy to find, carry, and remain clean and dry even in barn, truck, or livestock trailer environment. Plastic totes, tackle boxes, or plastic tool boxes can be found in many outlets and could provide a convenient and inexpensive carrier for first aid kit. It is wise to tape important names and phone numbers on the side of the kit. These important numbers can be found quickly or by others even if the primary animal caretaker isn’t present.

  • Heavy duty scissors
  • Flashlight
  • Halter and rope
  • Needle nosed pliers
  • Wire cutters (animal with leg in wire)
  • Disposable gloves
  • 4X4 gauze sponges
  • Skin cleanser
  • Several small bottles of sterile saline
  • Water soluble ointment
  • Frothy Bloat treatment
  • Screw type bloat trochar
  • Several rolls of vet type wrap, 1 “medical tape, duct tape
  • Fly repellant
  • Several large syringes (35-60 cc)
  • Small child’s disposable diaper or some rolled cotton
  • Antibiotic eye ointment
  • Thermometer
  • 1 bottle of Calcium borogluconate or 1 oral calcium gel
  • Key phone numbers taped on side of First Aid Kit

Optional items

  • OB chains and handles, water based lubricant
  • Small amount of epinephrine
  • Few needles and small sized syringes
  • Mineral oil
  • Hoof nippers and knife
  • Small sharps container

David Wolfgang, Extension Veterinarian & Field Investigations