Horses can’t lie down for too long

URBANA, Ill. — It’s something you wouldn’t believe could happen unless you saw it. You walk out to the barn in the morning and start to panic when you realize your horse has cast itself.

Somehow, someway, your horse has managed to lie up against a wall and is unable to get its feet underneath it to stand up.

But, why?

Most horse owners know their equine companions can’t lie down for long, but exactly why that is remains a mystery to many.

“The longer they are down, the more prone they are to reperfusion injury,” said Elysia Schaefer, an equine surgery resident at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine.

Reperfusion injury can happen because horses are such large animals and the weight of their body in and of itself can prevent blood flow to certain locations. This can cause severe problems when they try to stand up again, and blood flow tries to return to normal.

Time is critical.

Because Schaefer frequently deals with equine patients that must remain on their backs for an extended period of time during surgery, she knows time is of the essence in the operating room.

While surgeries in smaller patients, including humans, may go on for countless hours, equine surgeons usually have a window of about three hours to get the job done.

“After surgery, we usually give them around one to two hours in the recovery stall and let them try and stand on their own,” explains Schaefer.

At the Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, the large animal surgery recovery room is covered from wall to wall with soft blue pads, and the floor is an inflatable mattress to better comfort patients coming out of anesthesia.

Several issues

Whether a horse is down because of surgery or it has cast itself in a stall, there are several problems that can occur.

Besides reperfusion injury, muscles on the down side of the animal, as well as nerves, can become damaged from excessive pressure.

Also, the “down” lung of the horse may cause trouble as excess blood pools there due to gravity.
Horses with neurological diseases are occasionally referred to the teaching hospital for intensive care.

In some of these cases, the animal cannot stand.

“With neurological cases where the patient is down, we are very careful to go in and flip them every few hours,” said Schaefer.

Although an equine surgeon worries about several issues if their patient were to be on one side for a long time, horses can get bedsores just like humans, too.

Sooner the better

While there is no hard and fast rule about how long a horse can be down before permanent damages ensue, the sooner you can get them up the better.

Some owners think it is beneficial to pile wood shavings at least 2 feet high around the perimeter of the stall to prevent casting. However, that isn’t fool proof.

If your horse has been down for a long period of time, or it is has cast itself and you are concerned with its health, call your veterinarian.

Be careful

Some horses may be very scared if they can’t get up on their own, so use extreme caution if you try to move them.

2 Comments

  1. andries says:

    Hi, my friend has a horse. The horse was fit the one day and the next she just was laying there. She became very skinny in a matter of hours, and she is just laying there. Its not colic, we did check, and there is no bite marks or fever, she just picks up her head like two inches and drops it again, then thrashes a bit then nothing. The vet doesn’t know and we are looking for all possible answers to help poor Muds (its the horses name)

  2. ---------????------ says:

    @andries well, I’m no vet but maybe that horse gas epilepsy which means they have constant sezuires I don’t think it would happen in a day however. If the horse is around other animals it could have Mad Cow disease which attacks the brain until it dies. It may be a fluke though too hard to say…. remember flys carry diseases too. I sounds nowt lune diabetes though in which case Muds will have to be on incilun shots the rest of its life… but Luke I said I’m not vet that’s just what it sounds like to me

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