Horse wounds can be alarming to deal with, especially when horses experience severe cuts or lacerations. Wounds are the second most common emergency issue in equine care.

Horses often sustain wounds from their surroundings, whether from sharp objects such as nails or fence posts in their pasture, rough edges in stables, or even from other horses. Wounds may also be caused by slips or falls during riding or training, as well as ill-fitting or broken tack.

Prompt wound care is essential for the health and well-being of your horse. While minor wounds can often be managed by the horse owner, veterinary guidance is crucial for more serious injuries.

Treatment can pose a challenge depending on the type of wound, location, as well as the severity. [1] However, with diligent care, most wounds heal with minimal complications, allowing your horse to return to their normal activities.

Wound Care for Horses

Wounds in horses can be classified based on their cause, depth, and location. Recognizing the type of wound is the first step in determining the appropriate care.

Four main types of wounds that occur in horses include: [2]

  • Puncture Wounds: These seemingly minor wounds can mask extensive damage beneath the skin’s surface and are prone to infection. The skin may heal before the underlying tissue, complicating treatment. Puncture wounds should be left open and regularly flushed out (lavaged).
  • Incised Wounds: These slicing wounds tend to have smooth edges and can often be sutured, stapled, or glued together to aid healing.
  • Lacerations: Characterized by jagged edges, lacerations may involve underlying soft tissue damage and are prone to infection. This type of wound often requires debridement (removal of damaged tissue and/or foreign objects) and is usually managed as an open wound.
  • Abrasions: These superficial skins wounds are generally minor, but require thorough cleaning. They can be treated with topical applications.

Wound Locations

Common wound locations in horses often correspond to areas that are most exposed or prone to injury due to the horse’s environment and behavior.

Examples of wounds that horses can sustain on different parts of their body include:

  • Legs and Feet: Prone to injuries like cuts, abrasions, and punctures due to sharp objects on the ground.
  • Head and Neck: Susceptible to wounds from bumping into stable fixtures or during interactions with other horses.
  • Flank and Sides: Can incur injuries from encounters with sharp edges in their environment.
  • Back and Hindquarters: At risk of scrapes and bites, especially in wooded areas or from social interactions with other horses.
  • Eyes and Ears: Vulnerable to damage from debris, vegetation, or conflicts with other animals.

The location of the wound impacts treatment and healing, as well as the risk of potential complications. Areas with high movement, exposure to dirt, or limited blood flow often require more complex care and have a prolonged recovery time.

Lower Limbs Wounds

Lower limb wounds on horses are common, often caused by foreign objects such as fencing, gates, farm implements, and building materials. These wounds can be more difficult to manage because of poor circulation, joint movement, and the lack of soft tissue between skin and bone. [3]

Wounds on the lower limbs are more prone to developing proud flesh than other locations, largely because of reduced blood flow. [12]

Wounds on the lower limbs are also at higher risk of environmental contamination, which can lead to infection and complications. [2] These wounds can also involve damage to underlying structures, resulting in chronic inflammation. [3]

Lower limb wounds often increase in size after the initial injury. Wounds can double in size within the first two weeks, often due to skin tension, lack of muscle coverage, and movement of the limb. [4]

Injuries to the lower limbs might affect critical components such as the flexor tendons or the suspensory ligament. These types of wounds may need to be surgically repaired to restore athletic function or possibly save the horse’s life. [5]

Wounds that affects synovial structures (joints) may not have a favorable outcome. [5] Prompt veterinary evaluation is crucial for any wound near a joint.

Upper Body Wounds

Wounds on a horse’s upper body, including the trunk, may involve underlying muscle damage but generally heal swiftly and with minimal scarring.

Fortunately, even extensive injuries with significant tissue damage to the neck or trunk areas tend to heal well. [3]

First Aid for Wounds

When it comes to horse care, being prepared to handle emergencies is as crucial as routine maintenance. Wounds require immediate attention and first aid to stop bleeding and prevent further damage.

If your horse experiences a non-life threatening wound, you may be able to manage it on your own, without requiring veterinary intervention. However, severe wounds should be examined by a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Here is a comprehensive guide to administering first aid for equine wounds:

Step 1: Assess the Situation

Before approaching the horse, ensure the environment is safe for both you and the animal. Calmly assess the severity of the wound. If the wound is large or deep or appears to affect structures such as tendons or joints, call your veterinarian right away.

Step 2: Calm Your Horse

Approach your horse calmly and speak in a soothing tone. A stressed horse can make treatment more difficult and can potentially cause further injury to itself or the handler.

Step 3: Stop the Bleeding

If the wound is bleeding, apply direct pressure using a clean cloth or sterile gauze. For severe bleeding, keep pressure on the wound until veterinary help arrives.

Step 4: Clean the Wound

Once the bleeding is under control, gently clean the wound with clean, cold water to remove any dirt or debris. If you can safely clip the hair around the wound, this will help you further assess the damage and keep the area clean. [5]

For superficial wounds, washing with a mild antiseptic is also recommended, but avoid using strong disinfectants as they can damage tissues and delay healing. For deeper wounds, irrigation with sterile saline either with or without an antiseptic is recommended. [5]

Step 5: Protect the Wound

If the wound is straightforward and your horse shows no signs of lameness, you can proceed with apply dressing and/or bandaging. [2]

Cover the wound with a sterile dressing to protect it from further contamination. If you don’t have a sterile dressing in your emergency first aid kit, a clean, non-stick cloth can be used temporarily.

Step 6: Immobilize if Necessary

If the wound is on a limb and there is a suspicion of a fracture, the limb may need to be immobilized with a splint. Do not attempt this if you are not trained, as improper splinting can cause more harm.

Step 7: Monitor for Shock

While waiting for your veterinarian, monitor your horse for signs of shock, which can include weakness, a rapid pulse, and shallow breathing. Keep the horse calm and still until help can arrive.

Step 8: Follow Veterinary Advice

Once the veterinarian arrives, provide them with any relevant details about what caused the wound and your horse’s health history. Follow their instructions for wound care and any medications prescribed.

If more than six months have elapsed since your horse’s last tetanus toxoid vaccination, a booster is recommended to prevent tetanus infection. [6]

Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like flunixin meglumine (Banamine), phenylbutazone (Bute), or firocoxib (Equioxx) are typically administered to manage pain and inflammation within the initial 72-hour period following an injury. After this period, they are usually discontinued as they may slow healing.

Antibiotics are usually not needed unless deeper structures are involved or infection poses a significant threat. [13]

Wound Cleaning

Knowing how to safely and properly clean a horse wound is essential for emergency care. The primary objective in cleaning a wound is to minimize the presence of necrotic (dead) tissue and bacteria. However, you will likely not be able to eliminate all bacteria from the wound.

Any form of cleaning, whether scrubbing a wound or using antiseptic agents will involve some amount of tissue debridement or removal. However, excessive cleaning can cause more harm than good by damaging viable tissues. [7]

Previously, it was recommended to scrub wounds, but researchers have since learned that this may actually delay wound healing by damaging healthy tissue. [7] Instead, only the intact skin around the wound should be scrubbed.

Studies indicate that minimizing mechanical scrubbing can lead to lower bacterial counts on the skin than the previously recommended five-minute scrub. [7]

Antiseptics such as povidone iodine, hydrogen peroxide, and acetic acid (distilled vinegar) can be used for wound cleaning and lavage. But keep in mind these solutions are cytotoxic and they can damage cells, including healthy ones.

Their use should be confined to the intact skin surrounding the wound, not the wound itself. [7]

Wound Lavage

Wound lavage, or flushing, is a gentle method to clean wounds and reduce contamination. It can be performed with a syringe, irrigation system, or a hose. [7]

For homemade saline, mix 8 teaspoons of salt in one gallon of boiled water. Avoid adding antibiotics to the lavage fluid to prevent bacterial resistance. [7]

When to Call Your Veterinarian

For severe wounds in horses, you need to involve your veterinarian. Veterinary intervention is warranted in the following circumstances: [2]

  • The wound is large, deep, or bleeding profusely
  • The wound affects your horse’s eye
  • The wound is near a joint or tendon sheath
  • The wound involves penetration of the hoof sole
  • Your horse is lame or showing signs of pain
  • Your horse isn’t healing as expected or their condition worsens
  • Proud flesh (granulation tissue) appears in or around the healing wound

Catastrophic wounds require prompt veterinary assessment and are easier to manage in an equine hospital setting.

For instance, severe hemorrhage from a major blood vessel might necessitate surgical ligation or clamping to halt the bleeding. Conversely, bleeding from smaller vessels typically responds well to compression with a bandage. [5]

Veterinary Treatment for Wounds

In treating serious wounds, veterinarians ma