From Sterilization to Stitches: Handling Horse Wounds

Last Updated on February 25, 2022 by Allison Price

What do you do if you find a wound

Wounds can be tricky. A small, innocuous knick on the knee could be a serious puncture. While a large area of missing skin and enough blood to make it look like a crime scene might be an indication that there is no problem, a quick vet check may be all that is needed to confirm. It is important to be familiar with the steps and when to call your veterinarian if you discover a wound.

Step 1

Don’t panic if your horse cuts or slices a part of his body. Alexandra Tracey DVM, Dipl., suggests that you take a deep breath and exhale to assess the situation. ACVS-LA, Palmetto Equine Veterinary Services in Townville (South Carolina). This is the easiest part. If the injury is not obvious, you should wait to inspect it. Your veterinarian will be able to assess the situation when they arrive.

Apply pressure to the horse if he is bleeding. If it’s a limb injury, wrap or bandage it with a tight, well-padded, and snugly fitting, bandage. Tracey suggests that you gently clean the area to get a better understanding of the structures involved. You can cause more damage than good if you are too aggressive.

Handling Horse Wounds

Tracey suggests using mild antiseptics to clean the wound. This could include a povidone iodine, betadine, or chlorhexidine surgical scrub. If there isn’t a lot bleeding, rinse the wound with warm water or a bucket. Be careful not to push debris further into the wound with overly aggressive cleaning. Tracey suggests that you use a gauze square to gently clean the area.

Dean Hendrickson, DVM, MS, Dipl. ACVS professor of surgery at Colorado State University in Fort Collins says that clean, cool water is very effective to remove blood and other debris. After cleaning the area with water and drying it, he suggests applying a hypertonic 20% salicylate dressing. This can be made by adding 1/2 cup salt to 1 quart water.

He says, “The hypertonic salt dressing helps to disinfect the wound and eliminate bacteria.” “Almost every wound has some kind of contamination. I don’t like lotions or potions, which are commonly used in wounds. I try to avoid them.

Grab the Phone

After you have assessed the situation, it is time to decide whether or not to call the vet. Hendrickson says, “I always urge my clients to erron the side of getting me involved.” “If the wound extends to a part of your horse that is bent (i.e., a knee), you should contact the vet immediately. It’s crucial that we understand all aspects of the wound as soon as possible. You could be causing your horse to become dysfunctional if you don’t catch something like a tendon sheath, bone, or joint.

Tracey agrees with that sentiment and says, “I can’t say enough about treating wounds while they’re fresh, so I can clean out contamination and get everything back in the right direction.” “I don’t like the wait-and-see approach, unless the wound is very serious.

No matter what type of wound you have, it is important to give as much detail as possible when calling the veterinarian. This will allow the vet to provide the best treatment plan. Tracey encourages clients to take photos of the injury.

The Work Up

The veterinarian might first trim the hair around the wound. Next, they will assess the injury and any tissues, including deeper structures like joints, bones, ligaments, or tendons.

Tracey says that if a horse appears to have a joint problem, the veterinarian can sedate it.

If Tracey or Hendrickson suspect that a synovial (joint structure) is involved, they will flush it out with sterile soap or another similar solution.

Tracey says, “If the saline drains from the wound we know that it communicates with the wound. We need to treat that joint as aggressively as possible.” There are several treatment options available, including antibiotics, arthroscopy and regional limb perfusion.

If the veterinarian suspects that the horse may have a concomitant bone injury, radiographs might be necessary. To check for tendon and ligament injuries, the veterinarian might use ultrasound. Tracey says, “Once we have a complete diagnostic and know what’s involved in the wound, there are some things we can do that will help it heal faster.”

Punctures vs. Lacerations

Puncture wounds are easy to miss, which can lead to a host of problems. Alexandra Tracey DVM, Dipl., says that a laceration is a larger surface cut or wound. ACVS-LA, Palmetto Equine Veterinary Services in Townville. You don’t always see them. It’s easy for a large laceration to be seen, but it can be difficult to spot a puncture. It is worth taking a closer look if you notice swelling on your horse or a sore. It is important to remove all debris and dirt from your horse’s puncture wounds. You may need to clip the hair of your horse if it is very hairy.

Care for any punctured injury should be taken seriously. Dean Hendrickson DVM, MS and Dipl., says that puncture wounds can be very distressing. They hide everything. ACVS, Colorado State University professor of surgery in Fort Collins. Puncture wounds can be difficult to diagnose. They can transmit bacteria to the tendon sheath or joint. A raging infection could lead to a life-threatening condition that can be career-threatening.

Natalie DeFee Mendik, MA

Support and Clean

Tracey says that dilution is the best way to reduce bacteria contamination. Next, you might need to suture the wound edges. If necessary, start with the tissues below the skin. Your veterinarian may delay this step for a few more days if the wound is extremely contaminated.

Hendrickson says, “If I can suture a wound to seal it, I will.” It gives both the horse and client the best functional results.

Tracey suggests that drains be placed within the wound to prevent fluid pockets from developing below the closure. To minimize contamination and speed healing, she seals the wound with a sterile wrap.

Sources say that leg wounds need additional support, especially in areas where the joint moves with every movement. A splint can reduce motion and keep horses comfortable in this situation. Be aware that the horse may be straining the uninjured leg or overloading it (e.g. shifting weight to the sound leg constantly).

Trauma Treatment

Depending on the severity and extent of the injury, your veterinarian may prescribe medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) or antibiotics. Hendrickson’s motto regarding medication is to “act sparingly.”

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He says, “I don’t use many antibiotics unless there is a synovial structure.” Because most of the times we can treat wounds topically with only debridement dressings such as the hypertonic solution, he said. “I don’t put any extra stuff in the wounds that I don’t need.” I use NSAIDs sparingly to reduce inflammation. But I am very cautious.

For example, you don’t want to give a horse too many NSAIDs that he doesn’t heal his wounds in the initial stages or has a poor inflammatory response afterward. We know that an inflammatory response is required to mobilize white blood cells and other beneficial cells into the wound for healing.

Hendrickson says, “I prefer a low dose non-steroidal treatment and treat everything topically.”

Tracey recommends regional limb perfusions for serious or infected leg injuries. This involves the veterinarian placing a tourniquet over the injury and injecting antibiotics below it.

She says that if you leave the anti-biotic on for 30 minutes, it will diffuse to the tissues below the tourniquet. This allows the high levels of antibiotics to reach the tissues without overdosing the horse’s entire body.

Topic Tips

Simple is the best way to ensure you have a first-aid kit for your wounds. Dean Hendrickson DVM, MS and Dipl., says, “Be careful with tack store wound magical.” ACVS, Colorado State University professor of surgery in Fort Collins. “The ingredients might not be suitable for the wound or may even be harmful. This has caused wounds to not heal properly or have been seen to fail to heal. Keep in your first-aid kit hypertonic and saline dressings, triple antibiotic ointment, silver sulfadiazine cream (SFZ), and saline. Reduce the use of other applications that can be traumatizing to cells while they heal.

Alexandra Tracey DVM, Dipl., says “Be conservative with top-of-the-line applications.” ACVS-LA, Palmetto Equine Veterinary Services in Townville (South Carolina). You don’t want anything to cause wounds. “My ointment choice is a simple, triple antibiotic ointment available from any pharmacy.” She also mentions that silver sulfadiazine, which is both antifungal as well as antibacterial, can be used for abrasions and anywhere else the vet is concerned about skin survival.

She says that spray-on sprays are not something I like, except for aluminum bandage spray. This provides extra protection to areas you can’t wrap. Hydrogen peroxide can be used for initial cleaning, although it is not as effective as a surgical scrub. However, it is toxic to the new tissue.

Natalie DeFee Mendik, MA

Complications with Cuts

Tracey says that if you don’t treat a wound promptly or catch it early, you could run into other complications.

  • Infection can range from general infection to joint infection. This is often caused by puncture wounds.
  • Secondary tendon or ligament injuries that were not recognized at the time of the original injury.
  • Larger wounds can cause skin loss
  • Exuberant granulation tissue, also known as proud flesh, is found in wounds that can’t be sutured because of their location or contamination. Proud flesh is a protruding tissue that extends from the wound edges and hinders skin from healing. Tracey says that your veterinarian can trim the excess tissue using a scalpel, rather than using a harsh commercial product or home remedy.
  • Bone sequestrum is a condition in which a bone fragment dies due to a lack of blood supply or infection and then separates from the healthy bone.
  • Loss of blood supply such as injuries that affect the entire circumference of a limb (i.e. wire fencing wrapped around one leg) can pose serious risks to the hoof. Tracey warns that blood vessels that supply that area could be affected.

It is important that you keep your veterinarian updated after treatment. To ensure that healing continues, you might schedule a follow up visit.

Take-Home Message

Your horse’s recovery from a wound will be easier if you call your veterinarian as soon as possible. Hendrickson states that the most common problem in horse care is not calling your veterinarian early enough, especially if there are complications such as an infection or compromised blood supply. He says that wounds that have been chronically infected are less likely to heal with healthy tissue.

Early intervention can help improve the prognosis in difficult cases.

Tracey states that there are many options available to help. It’s easier to identify the problem early and then treat it as aggressively as possible. There are many things we can do if there are damaged joint structures.

Tracey suggests that you learn as much as you can about the work of your veterinarian so that your horse’s recovery and care can be managed by you. You will need to have a basic understanding of anatomy to improve your communication with your veterinarian and practical skills such as correct bandaging. Many veterinary clinics like hers offer clients the opportunity to study these topics.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!