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    Wound Care for Horses

    Authored by Katie Navarra

    The old proverb, “curiosity killed the cat,” warns of the dangers of curiosity. Horses are the perfect example of how curiosity can lead to trouble. Horses are curious by nature, which often leads to wounds on the face and legs.

    “Usually, horses get wounds on the face or legs. It’s not uncommon for them to catch a nose or an eyelid on something,” said Beau Whitaker, DVM, a partner of Brazos Valley Equine Hospitals with locations in Texas and Arizona.

    “The good news is that the face has a large blood supply because the body wants to keep the brain functioning. So even though it looks like a lot of blood loss, lacerations on the face heal well because of the amount of blood available for healing,” he said.

    Knowing best wound care practices for horses can help you take care of a cut or laceration to speed up the healing process. Here’s what you need to know.

    4 horse wound care tips

    In some cases, wounds are immediately visible. Others may be less obvious. Check your horse regularly for any signs of a cut or laceration and if you find an injury, follow these five steps.

    Step 1: If the wound is bleeding profusely, apply a pressure bandage to stem the flow.

    Step 2: If bleeding is not severe, flush the area with tap water. Hosing the area is often easiest. Filling a bucket with water and using a sponge is another choice.

    Step 3: Clean the area with betadine or an equine antiseptic. Dr. Whitaker recommends against cleaning horse wounds with hydrogen peroxide as the solution can potentially damage sensitive cells or tissues.

    Step 4: Apply a topical antibacterial ointment or spray and a pressure bandaged if needed. Call or text your veterinarian to decide if the wound can easily be treated at home or if the horse needs medical attention.

    Step 5: If the wound looks a few days old it may be too late to be sutured by a veterinarian but depending on the location and size the horse may still need medical care. First clean the wound thoroughly and remove any dead skin or debris. If the wound is on a leg it may benefit from a bandage, or if infected antibiotics may be administered. It is also important to make sure your horse has been vaccinated for tetanus. I have seen several horses with tetanus due to lack of vaccination.

    Cell phones and email make it easier than ever to check-in with a veterinarian and get their feedback on how to treat an injury.

    “A wound may not look severe, but when it occurs around a joint or tendon sheath -, it can get easily infected,” he said. “I’ve seen the tiniest nick over a joint turn into a severe situation.”

    5 wound care supplies

    First aid supplies are critical to treating a wound, preventing bacteria from entering the area, and creating an infection. Dr. Whitaker recommends keeping these basic wound care supplies on hand to limit infections:

    • Triple antibiotic topical (cream or spray)
    • Non-stick sterile pads
    • Gauze
    • Cotton padding
    • Adhesive wrap to secure a bandage

    Bandaging basics

    Bandages play a critical role in the healing process. Pressure stems the blood flow and restricts motion during healing. Compression bandages also reduce the chances that proud flesh will develop and decrease scarring. However, if done incorrectly, bandaging can cause more harm than good.

    “Often, I’ve seen people bandage without enough padding between the horse’s skin and the wrap,” he said. “In one case, the client applied an adhesive wrap directly over the wound. It got wet and turned into a tourniquet cutting off blood flow. As a result, the horse lost its hoof.”

    If you’re unfamiliar with correctly applying a bandage, ask your veterinarian for a tutorial. Experienced trainers, Pony Club and 4-H club leaders can also teach this skill.

    Advancements in wound care for horses

    Innovations developed for healing human wounds have spilled into horse care so that horses can heal quickly and thoroughly. For example, silver sulfadiazine cream first developed for use on human burn victims is one of Dr. Whitaker’s preferred topicals to treat wounds. It requires a prescription but is highly effective at preventing infections and is even gentle enough to be used to treat corneal ulcerations.

    “Since it was developed and approved for use in humans, I even keep some around to use on myself when I get a wound,” he said.

    Regenerative medicine treatments created for people are also decreasing scarring and improving recovery in horses. One treatment Dr. Whitaker recommends clients use on a laceration is amnion patches made of amniotic membranes collected and preserved after a mare delivers a foal. 

    "Tissues from the amniotic sack have significantly reduced and improved healing time," he said. “All of these can add significant costs to treating wounds but have greatly improved the healing process, so the horse is not left with a large, unsightly scar or mark."

    Decrease opportunity for horse wounds

    It’s unrealistic to think you can prevent 100% of wounds. Horses are experts at getting hurt; some might even find a way to get a minor cut in a padded stall. However, reducing hazards in the stall, the trailer, and the pasture can help reduce the frequency and severity of wounds.

    • Check stalls and fences for protruding nails.
    • Remove debris like downed limbs or old equipment from turnout areas.
    • Observe herd behavior and separate those that consistently “can’t get along.”
    • Cover bucket handles with a heavy tape or bandage adhesive to avoid catching a nose or eyelid.