First aid for a large laceration

As you wait for the veterinarian to arrive to tend a a wound, take the following steps to staunch bleeding and keep your horse calm and comfortable.

Apply direct pressure to stop the bleeding. Grab the cleanest cloth you have at hand—bandages are best but a towel, your shirt or a saddle pad will do—and press it gently but firmly against the wound. Do not ease up on the pressure while the bleeding continues. When the fabric becomes soaked with blood, place another directly over it. If it’s possible, you can also use a bandage to hold the cloth in place.

A person cleaning a wound on a horse's fetlock.
If you see anything in a horse’s wound, such as dirt or debris, leave it in place until the veterinarian arrives.

Find a safe treatment area. If you can do so safely, walk the horse to a quiet, well-lit area with access to running water. However, do not move the horse if you are having difficulty controlling the bleeding or if you suspect there may also be injury to a tendon, ligament or bone. If the horse seems reluctant to move, let him stay where he is until help arrives.

Keep the horse calm. Bringing in a quiet buddy to stand nearby may help settle an anxious horse. If the wound is not on his head or neck, you can offer him hay and water.

Flush the wound. Once the bleeding has slowed, use a gentle stream of water from a hose to rinse the wound as thoroughly as you can. You want to remove any dirt or small debris that may be clinging to the exposed tissues. Do not use a high-pressure spray attachment—you may push debris deeper into the wound. (Note: Skip this step if the bleeding was pulsatile and spurting; if an artery might be involved you do not want to risk restarting the bleeding— just leave your bandage in place and wait for the veterinarian.) 

Look for foreign material. Splinters or other foreign objects stuck in a wound can slow healing. If you see anything, leave it in place until the veterinarian arrives. She may need to determine the depth and track of any punctures within the larger wound. If embedded debris falls away while you are waiting, keep the object to show to your veterinarian.

Examine the rest of the horse, too. A gaping wound will demand your attention, but your horse may have incurred other injuries that also require treatment.

What not to do

Don’t use a tourniquet. When applied in- correctly, tourniquets can damage nerves, muscles and other tis-sues. A horse can lose more than two gallons of blood without serious ill effects; a tourniquet is unlikely to be needed before help arrives.

Don’t administer medications to the horse unless your veterinarian instructs you to. If you give the horse oral medications for pain, your veterinarian will not be able to administer faster-acting, more effective intravenous analgesics. You may also mask any signs of lameness.

Don’t apply topical aerosols, ointments, powders or salves. Antibacterial ointments can be damaging to healthy tissues, and sticky preparations. They may also interfere with your veterinarian’s efforts to assess and clean the wound.

This article was originally published in Volume #473 of EQUUS magazine

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