Horses are more likely to suffer from wounds because of their unpredictable nature. The natural response to pain in the horse is to run from it which can lead to severe and multiple injuries. Domestication of horses has brought them into the confines of fenced fields, stabling and ridden exercise all of which increase the risk of injury.
If your horse injures itself, ensure that there are no further human or animal casualties. Instinctively we all want to help, but no-one is useful if they add to the casualty list!
Injured horses can be moved if they are capable of walking comfortably on all limbs. It is much easier to examine a horse in a stable with access to light and water. It is best to wait for a veterinary examination if a horse has a wound and is severely lame or is distressed, before moving it.
Bleeding from wounds can be alarming. Wounds with blood pumping from them are likely to be arterial. Horses have a significant blood volume and therefore can lose a large amount of blood and survive. Direct pressure applied to the wound or a tourniquet placed above it in the case of a leg, will help to slow blood loss.
Describing wounds to the vet when you call for a visit can help us to advise you accordingly.
Wounds can be described in the following way:
Superficial wounds or abrasions away from joints may be treated with salt water bathing and hosing. This can be repeated twice daily. Ice packs can be beneficial but must not be left in contact with the skin for more than 20 minutes. Some wounds may be dressed if on the lower limbs. Wounds producing a discharge or which are dirty may respond to poulticing. Puncture wounds are dangerous as either their presence is missed or the depth of injury is unknown. Antibiotics are often required to prevent infection. Tetanus antitoxin may also be necessary if the horse is not vaccinated.
Stitching wounds depend on many factors, and not all wounds are amenable to this. Wounds incurred more than six hours previously, or those with marked contamination with soil or debris are less likely to heal if stitched. Incised wounds have sharp edges caused by a sharp object and heal well when stitched. Lacerations involve tearing of tissues and, although may be stitched, can be difficult to treat.
It is important to know the points of the horse to describe the site of wounds as this may influence first aid advice. There are ‘danger’ areas of the horse that require immediate veterinary attention. These include wounds over eyes, joints and tendons. Penetrating injuries to the frog, e.g. standing on a nail or wounds involving damage by foreign bodies require urgent attention. Please seek veterinary opinion before removing anything that has become implanted in a horse as this may affect treatment. If material must be removed then remember where it was removed from, the direction in which it was going and to what depth.
The use of wound powders on deep wounds should be avoided as they may slow healing. Avoid applying creams and powders to wounds before a vet comes to look at a wound as this may adversely affect treatment. Cleaning a wound with fresh water and applying a non-stick dressing can help to prevent it becoming contaminated. Bute should never be given to a horse unless prescribed by a vet as it may mask a serious, life-threatening condition.
Tetanus is a horrific disease, but it is avoidable using vaccination as protection. It is often caused by small undetected puncture wounds that become contaminated with Clostridium tetani bacteria from the soil. There is no need for any horse to suffer from the disease as vaccination is available.
Please contact the surgery for advice if you are unsure how to treat your horse’s wound. We are more than happy to advise you whether a call out is necessary.