Horses are prone to sustaining lacerations and puncture wounds due to their instincts as a prey animal, quick movements, delicate skin and frame, and rustic surroundings on the farm and in the field.
When evaluating your horse for a suspected wound, DON’T PANIC!! Restrain and try to calm the horse, and be careful not to get hurt yourself. Always make sure that your horse is current on tetanus vaccination, since even a small wound can result in this severe life-threatening infection.
Call your veterinarian immediately if the wound:
– will not stop bleeding
– appears to involve a joint, bone, ligaments, or tendons
– has gaping edges or appears to require stitches
– causes obvious lameness or other signs of pain
– has embedded hair, dirt, or debris
An oft-quoted mantra when dealing with contaminated wounds is “Dilution is the solution to pollution”. Using a saline solution or clean tap water can often remove contamination from superficial cuts and scrapes, but consult with your veterinarian before treating any deeper wounds. A weak Betadyne solution can also be used, but avoid hydrogen peroxide or alcohol as these can cause further tissue damage.
If the wound is actively bleeding hold several layers of padding against the wound (a wad of gauze is best, but a clean towel or sanitary napkin will work in a pinch!). If the wound bleeds through, do not remove the covering; instead add pressure with a second layer of gauze pads and cling wrap to avoid disrupting the clotting process.
When applying a bandage to a wound, it is important to use several layers and follow these basic principles:
– place a clean, non-stick absorbent layer directly over the wound
– hold the first layer in place with a roll of gauze
– add a layer of padding (a quilt or rolled cotton), especially if the wound is over a joint or bony protrusion
– be sure to smooth out any wrinkles to avoid uneven pressure points
– use a wrap (vet wrap or a knit stable bandage) to apply slightly snug even pressure leaving some of the padded layer unwrapped at the top and bottom
– with all layers, start at the bottom of the limb and overlap the material by about 50%
– be careful to avoid constriction of tendons and joints and never wrap so tightly that you cannot easily slip a finger between the top of the bandage and the leg
– change the bandage immediately if it becomes wet or soiled
Horse owners and barn managers often have a variety of wound ointments and sprays at their disposal. Be sure that you understand the proper occasion to use each preparation rather than just picking the prettiest color (“Should I use Blue Kote or Scarlet Spray or that yellow goop on that, Doc?”). Avoid using nitrofurazone below the hocks and knees, as they may promote excessive granulation tissue or “proud flesh”. Do not use ointments containing hydrocortisone unless specifically prescribed, since they may delay wound healing, as will most wound powders or petroleum based products. Small superficial scrapes or cuts that are cleaned and flushed sufficiently soon after they occur may not need any antibiotic treatment at all.
Monitor the wound as it heals. A small amount of clear or white discharge may be a normal part of the healing process and should not be debrided too vigorously. Causes for concern include a foul odor, swelling, excessive discharge, discoloration, lameness, or fever. With prompt and proper care, most wounds will heal quickly and you’ll be back on the trail again in no time.
Dr. Yoanna Maître is the owner of Berkshire Ambulatory Veterinary Services, a mobile clinic that provides on-farm medical and surgical care to horses and farm animals in Berkshire County and neighboring areas of New York State.