Wounds are one of the most common equine emergencies seen by veterinarians in the field and the hospital, said Alison Garder, DVM, who is a Diplomate in the American College of Veterinary Surgeons (Large Animal) and a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care (Large Animal). She is an assistant professor in Clinical Equine Surgery, Department of Veterinary Clinical Science, at The Ohio State University.Gardner was our guest on the EQUUS Farm Calls podcast on Equine Wounds. The podcast is brought to you in 2022 by Farnam.
Gardner said emergency wounds in horses often occur to the face or distal limbs. She said horses are fight or flight animals, and they get injured in their response to stimulus. Gardner said, “They try to fit through places they don’t fit, and they run into things.”
She noted that horses are also curious, and they can injure their lips “checking out” things in their environment with their lips. She said eyelid lacerations are also common, especially getting injured on bucket handles.
“The head, neck and trunk has a high blood supply and higher tension on the skin,” noted Gardner. The higher blood supply means “they heal well,” but the higher skin tension means it is sometimes harder to keep sutures or stables in place.
Distal limbs have less blood supply than the head, neck and trunk, Gardner noted. And there is less skin that is more prone to proud flesh.
Treatment and Bandaging
Gardner advised horse owners to take stock of what they have on hand to treat wounds, even if it is just until the veterinarian can arrive. (For leg wounds, check out the bandaging webinar on EQUUS’ sister publication site, EquiManagement.com.) https://equimanagement.com/disease-du-jour-podcast/disease-du-jour-equine-bandaging-tips-podcast-and-webinar/
“Bandaging can protect a wound even if it is just til the vet can get to the farm,” said Gardner. “Use a quilt and polo wrap if there is a good amount of blood loss. For full-thickness, minor wounds with no anatomical concerns (i.e., involvement of a joint capsule or other structures), you can clip and clean the area. Make sure to identify small lacerations around the major area. Bandaging material is important!”
She discussed the pros and cons of different topicals to clean wounds in different areas of the body, such as dilute chlorhexidine, which can can hurt eyes.
She said topical antibiotics or manuka honey designed for wound care offers antibacterial properties on wounds.
When To Call the Vet
“Anatomy matters” when determining whether you should call a veterinarian about a wound. “Some can involve superficial joint capsules, so it is important [to let your vet know] if a wound is in that area,” said Gardner. “Missing a wound that communicated with a joint can mean a lifetime of lameness.
“After you clip and clean the wound area, take a picture and send that to the vet,” she advised.
Gardner said the following wounds constitute an emergency:
- One resulting in significant blood loss (1-2 gallons is a lot of blood), although a horse can bleed a lot without concern
- A wound associated with underlying critical structures such as
- Thorax and abdomen
- Puncture wounds
- “Those might go into the chest, abdomen or joint; send an image to the vet if you are concerned,” said Gardner.
- “If the horse is dull or depressed because of a laceration, call your vet,” she stated.
- “A horse shouldn’t be extremely lame with a laceration,” she noted.
Gardner said don’t be surprised when your veterinarian warns you that the wound will look its “best” right after it is repaired. “Because of the inflammatory process due to normal healing and because of the tension of the skin, five to seven days after suture, the repair will ‘fall apart’ and not look as good,” said Gardner. “Then, in 12-14 days, your vet will remove sutures.”
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