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First aid for Equine Wounds: Dos and Don’ts Every Horse Owner Should know

Horses often get hurt or injured from barbed wire, nails, fencing, glass or metal. They run into things, step on sharp objects, or get stuck. If there are deep cuts, puncture wounds or open sores you're going to need to call the vet, but it's important to be able to provide your horse with first aid before the vet arrives.

When your horse does need first aid for a wound, you should first assess the wound or laceration and decide if it is something that requires the care of a veterinarian.

If the wound is very large or deep, if your horse is lame or if the wound is near any joint or tendon, it needs to be seen by a veterinarian.

The Dos and Don'ts of Equine First Aid

  • You can keep your horse safe from tetanus by making sure he is vaccinated twice a year. As well as building a good first aid kit, preventive measure like a tetanus shot can make the difference between a horse that recovers from even a simple-looking wound and one that dies from a bacterial infection.

  • Avoid touching the wound or clipping around the wound, since doing so may contaminate it

  • Do not apply medication to the wound as many antiseptics, detergents, greasy ointments and powders interfere with healing. Wait until your vet has determined what products you should be using, and advised you on the best way to use them.

  • Direct pressure (using a thick bandage) can be applied to the wound to stop bleeding, but never apply a tourniquet; these should only be applied by a veterinarian.

  • Strong antiseptics will kill bacteria, but can also cause further damage to a; instead, use very mild solutions such as a saline solution, and consult your vet to help determine which solution, if any, is appropriate

Making the decisiona s to whether the vet needs to be called will depend on the type of injury your horse has sustained. For more detail on First Aid for different injury types including puncture wounds, abrasions, lacerations, injuries near joints, ligament or tendon injuries and significant bleeding please see the following article: Equine First Aid for 6 common injury types. Insert hyperlink at upload.

Puncture wounds

The seriousness of puncture wounds depends on their depth, size, origin and location.  For example, a puncture wound in an area where it could comprise your horses internal organs, such as the chest, are cause for concern and veterinary advice should be sought immediately.

If the wound is bleeding but not very deep and has no debris left inside, slow or stop the bleeding by pressing on the spot with sterile gauze pads or a clean towel. If the bleeding has already stopped, clean the wound by flushing it out with a saline solution. In some cases, the object that causes the puncture may have pulled out leaving some ragged skin or torn tissue that protrudes from the wound. In this case, don't try to remove anything; just flush it with sterile saline and wrap it in dampened bandages until your vet can be consulted.

If the puncture has made a large hole, you may feel that bathing the wound will push the dirt or debris deeper rather than washing it away. If it doesn't look like you'll be able to effectively rid the wound of debris by flushing it out, wait for your vet to come rather than risk causing further damage. In deeper puncture wounds or in cases where the object is still in the wound, the vet will probably X-ray the area before trying to remove the foreign body. If you try to take it out yourself, you’re likely to cause greater damage. Other cases where a vet is definitely indicated include wounds that are more than an inch or two in depth, or wounds that bleed continuously.

Abrasions

Abrasions usually occur when a horse slips and falls. If the wound is a simple abrasion, you can take care of it yourself, but check to make sure there are no punctures, lacerations, broken bones or other more serious damage before treating the skin damage.

Clean abrasions by flushing with saline solution to remove the dirt, grass or other particles. Apply a disinfectant solution such as iodine, which will kill bacteria in and around the wound.  Hose the area with cool water for pain relief and to diminish swelling, and if your horse seems uncomfortable, you may want to get a prescription for an anti-inflammatory drug from your vet. After hosing, apply ointment to help the area heal and keep it protected from dirt. You will usually need to repeat this process once or twice daily until the abrasion heals.

Lacerations

Lacerations are deep cuts that extend into the tissue below the skin, and usually need to be treated with antibiotics to prevent infection, so you'll probably contact your vet in all but the most trivial cases. Common reactions and the possibilities of developing a resistance to antibiotics should be thoroughly discussed with your vet before giving any kind of medication to your horse.

Your horse may require stitches and a course of antibiotics, so in cases of lacerations it is imperative you contact the vet immediately.

Injuries near joints

If your horse suffers a wound over the knee or another joint, you should contact your vet right away. The vet will determine whether the injury has affected the joint, and may use X-rays or other methods to check on the severity of the wound. Your horse may require sutures and will probably have a course of antibiotics to prevent the wound or the joint from becoming infected.

Ligament and tendon injurys

If your horse suddenly goes lame, check for small lacerations you may not have noticed right away; being alert to the possibility means you'll lessen your horse's chances of becoming permanently lame due to infection or tendon damage.

Bandage the horse’s other leg to help it support the additional weight when your horse favors the injured leg. You might be able to see that a tendon or ligament has been cut, although the laceration looked simple when you started. Call the vet, your horse may need stitches, and will probably get a course of antibiotics. The tendon sheaths, even when the tendon hasn't been injured directly, are susceptible to bacteria, which cause pain and swelling. Omitting to treat with antibiotics can cause lameness even once the cut itself has healed. Your vet will decide about pain relief options and will advise you in how long to keep the horse on box rest and when and how to start exercising him again.

Bleeding

If a wound affects an artery, bright red blood will spurt from the wound. If this is the case, take immediate action. However, darker red blood, with no spurting, generally signals that the blood originates in a vein. Unless it is a large vein, it is not immediately life threatening.

The more your horse moves, the more her wound will bleed. To help calm her, talk to her in a soft voice and keep her still in one place. Keep people and other animals around your horse quiet.

Use a clean and preferably sterile bandage or clean towel in the case of a larger wound to apply pressure to the wound area. This will help reduce bleeding.

As in any first aid situation, act quickly and smartly.  As a general rule, most horses can lose up to 10% of their blood volume before shock due to blood loss begins. For the average horse, this equals approximately two gallons of blood. How rapidly the blood loss occurs and the severity of the trauma also plays a role in the development of shock. If shock has begun, contact your veterinarian immediately.

The signs of shock due to blood loss include:

  • weakness

  • sweating

  • colic

  • elevated heart rate

  • pale mucus membranes

First Aid kit

If your horse does any traveling, you should have two first aid kits: one in the stable and one in the trailer in case there's injury away from home.

  • Bath and hand towels for applying pressure to slow or stop heavy bleeding

  • Rolls of gauze bandage and gauze squares for dressings.

  • Surgical tape and duct tape

  • Scissors

  • Wrapping bandages

  • Leg wraps

  • Spray bottle

  • Petroleum jelly

  • Ointment

  • Large syringe for wound flushing

  • Sterile saline solution

  • iodine or other disinfectant

  • Tweezers