Anyone who has ever owned a horse will know just how good they are at getting into scrapes and injuring themselves, even in the stable! Most cuts, grazes and cuts can be dealt with yourself without troubling the vet. Use a weak saline or chlorhexidine solution to clean the wound and then applying a clean dressing if one is required.
When to call the vet
There are some circumstances where it is absolutely necessary to call the vet without hesitation. If the horse has not been vaccinated against tetanus in the last twelve months, and has sustained a penetrative wound you must summon the vet as your horse is at risk from this potentially fatal disease.
Puncture wounds which have penetrated to a depth of more than three centimeters will require veterinary attention as there is a good chance that dirt will have been deposited inside the wound and infection is likely. Your vet will be able to prescribe a short course of antibiotics to see off any bacterial infection and will probably advise you to apply poultices to the wound, depending upon its location.
If the horse has a cut or tear injury with edges which pull apart, stitches may be required together with a short course of antibiotics and suitable dressings to keep the wound clean. Broken knees also require veterinary attention to determine whether the joint capsule has been compromised. It may be necessary for the horse to be hospitalised in order for the joints to be flushed and x-rayed and he will need a course of antibiotics together with special pressure boot dressings to reduce swelling.
Any wound which is pumping or spouting bright red blood could indicate damage to an artery and should be treated as an emergency. Call the vet immediately. Keep the horse as still as possible to allow his heart rate to slow down – this will help to slow the blood flow. Stay calm and use a pad (a hankie will do, or your hand in the absence of anything else) to apply steady pressure to the area immediately above the wound to slow the blood loss.
Wounds which occur as the result of a kick could be hiding a hairline fracture which may not be immediately obvious as they horse might not be lame and particular concern should be given to injuries involving the joints, throat or face. If the horse is showing signs of shock; is very lame or reluctant to move, where possible keep him in situ and call the vet as an emergency.
First aid dos and don’ts
If you discover your horse has sustained a wound, you can administer first aid immediately while you wait for the vet to arrive.
Do clean the wound using saline solution; one teaspoon of cooking salt per 500ml of cooled boiled water is the recommended preparation. You can also use a very dilute solution of chlorhexidine (Hibiscrub); one teaspoon per pint of cooled boiled water. Avoid using anything stronger as this can damage the delicate tissues within the skin and retard the healing process. Obviously, if you don’t have anything else, plain water is better than nothing.
Don’t use cotton wool to clean or dress open wounds. The fibres will become stuck to the wound and can cause infection. If the horse is stabled you must protect an open skin wound from contamination by bedding until the wound has dried and healing has begun.
Don’t put wound powder, purple spray or any other topical product on the wound. This can slow down the healing process and will make it difficult for your vet to see whether deeper tissues have been damaged.
Do bandage cuts and wounds that occur below the knee or hock. This keeps the wound clean; keeps the surrounding skin still preventing stretching of the injury and protects the injury from further damage. Use lint to cover the wound site; veterinary gamgee for padding and self-adhesive veterinary bandages which won’t slip. Be careful not to apply the bandages too tightly though as the area may swell and you don’t want to restrict blood flow.
Don’t give your horse any form of pain killers or sedative before your vet arrives. The vet will want to assess the degree of lameness present and pain killers can mask the extent of any damage.
Don’t panic! A little bit of blood goes a long way and wounds very often look much worse than they actually are. Keep your horse quiet and yourself calm while you wait for assistance.
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