This blog post is a request, from someone who recently experienced a nosebleed in her youngster for the first time, and wasn`t sure what to do.
Equine nosebleeds, like with humans, can look pretty dramatic. Especially because it`s on a bigger scale, they can`t wipe their nose, and on grey horses it looks like they`ve severed an artery.
Most nosebleeds, technically called epistaxis, should cease within about fifteen minutes, if not it is serious and needs emergency veterinary attention.
You can tell if a nosebleed is serious by the amount of blood. If bleeding is profuse then you should contact the vet. An average horse can only afford to lose about four litres before they need emergency investigation, so you should act quickly if blood lose is rapid.
If the horse is suffering from a head trauma they will only bleed from one nostril, whereas if they have ruptured a pulmonary capillary they will have blood in both nostrils. You may be able to see if there is a cause for the horse to bleed – did they just knock their head, had a fall, or just been tubed by the vet? If they`ve just been for a blow out on the gallops they may have an exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage – one of my friend`s horses is prone to these due to the steroids he is on for a digestive disorder he has. Technically, because the blood originates in the lungs it isn`t a nosebleed, as it first appears.
Some horses, like my friend`s youngster, can have a one-off nosebleed, which is usually minor and doesn’t reoccur. If your horse has frequent nose bleeds, no matter how minor, then it is worth discussing with your vet to find out the underlying cause.
So what are the causes of nosebleeds? Because, as with most things, there`s always a reason. A horse`s nose will bleed when the throat, lower airways or lungs are damaged and the blood vessels leak out blood. The most common cause is a knock to the head which damages the tiny blood vessels, causing blood from one nostril, and it is always worth talking to your vet in these cases, although they are self-limiting.
Nosebleeds can also be caused accidentally when a vet passes a stomach tube up from a nostril, especially if the horse moves. I remember holding one horse with colic while the vet unsuccessfully tubed him. He also suffered from COPD and I believe that his nasal tubes were damaged or deformed, because the vet simple could not get the tube up his nose and we ended up covered in blood, with a horse who could not be saved.
If a horse has a nosebleed and is also coughing, then there may be a foreign body in his nose or throat, that is damaging the local blood vessels.
A horse who has recurrent nosebleeds could occasionally have a tumour in the trachea, or an inflammation of the sinuses, which is why it is important to consult with your vet if your horse has frequent nosebleeds. Other problems are progressive ethmoid haematoma and guttural pouch mycosis, which need veterinary attention.
What to do in the case of a nosebleed:
- Keep the horse calm.
- Horses breathe through their nose, so don`t pack their nostrils and obstruct the airways.
- Holding a cold wet towel or ice pack below the horse`s eyes can help reduce a nosebleed if the blood originates from that area.
- A horse`s body contains a large volume of blood, so even if it looks like a lot of blood coming from the nose it may not be critical. However, nosebleeds lasting longer than quarter of an hour are a veterinary emergency.
- When you speak to the vet, make sure you tell them if the blood is coming from one nostril or both, how much blood there is, and if they have recurrent nosebleeds, or if they have suffered a trauma that may have caused the nosebleed.