Few horses get through life without at least a few minor skin wounds, whether from scrapes, scuffles or other mishaps. Most heal quickly and uneventfully, but you'll want to do what you can to support the process.
- Call your veterinarian when in doubt about sutures. Most cuts heal just fine if left unsutured, but some larger lacerations, as well as wounds near mobile areas such as joints, do better if stitched shut. If you're not sure whether a wound needs sutures, consult your veterinarian without delay.
- Clean the wound immediately and thoroughly. Flushing a wound right away with water or isotonic saline solution clears out debris that could cause infection. The moisture also encourages granulation, the formation of new tissue across the "bed" of a wound, and epithelialization, the growth of new skin tissue over the surface. Also, keep in mind that small wounds can be deceptively deep---check them daily for swelling, soreness or pus and call your veterinarian if any of these occur.
- Cover wounds, when possible. Not every wound can be easily bandaged, and some do better if left uncovered. However, a bandage will provide a barrier against contaminants and will keep the healing area from drying out. This protection is especially important for lower leg injuries, which are closer to the ground and, therefore, are at increased risk of infection.
- Minimize movement. Deep wounds near joints and other highly mobile areas may take longer to heal because the motion tears at the fragile healing tissues. Your veterinarian can advise you on whether a bandage or cast is needed to limit movement.
- Use topical ointments judiciously. In the early stages of healing, stick with clear, water-based ointments that help keep the wound moist and aid movement of white blood cells in the area. Later, when granulation has progressed, you can begin using thicker, emollient-type preparations that provide a barrier against flies and minimize scarring.
This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #429.