After a day of turnout, your horse comes in with a few scrapes on his legs. The bleeding’s stopped, but the wounds are open. What do you do? Brush up on your first-aid basics for wound care now, before you need to put them to test in the barn.
Evaluate the Wound
While you can treat minor wounds on your own, there are some kinds of wounds for which you should immediately call the vet. Wounds in or near the eye require veterinary attention, as do wounds on the joints of the legs, especially if they’re punctures. Wounds on the leg joints may mean that the joint capsule has been compromised, making infection a serious concern. If you ever see clear joint capsule fluid oozing from a joint wound, call your vet immediately and do not treat the wound yourself.
Other wounds may be so large that they require stitching. If there is a foreign object embedded in the wound, or if you cannot stop the bleeding, veterinary assistance will be needed. If your horse is showing signs of shock, including unresponsiveness, a low pulse, or difficulty breathing, call your vet.
Wear disposable latex gloves when you’re dealing with a wound. Be sure to monitor your horse’s tolerance to your touching the wound, especially when working with leg wounds. If the wound is especially painful your horse may need to be sedated or twitched for the initial treatments. Be sure to enlist help if you think you might need it.
Clean the Wound
The first step to caring for a wound is to make sure that it’s clean and clear of all debris. If possible, move your horse to a well-lit area where you can clearly see the wound. Remove any debris present by hand, and attempt to save it if possible so that you’ll have it to refer to in case the wound does not heal correctly.
Wash the wound with water or a saline solution. Another option is to combine Betadine with warm water to cleanse the wound. Whatever you use, try to wash the wound as gently as you can; if you use a hose, then reduce the pressure as much as possible.
Once you’ve washed out the wound, use clean gauze to scrub gently at it to remove any leftover debris or dirt. Pour water or solution directly onto the gauze, then discard it after having used each piece. Repeat the process until the wound is thoroughly cleaned.
Select an antibiotic ointment to treat and protect the wound with. If you’re treating a horse during the summer, then it’s a good idea to use an ointment that repels flies. Some ointments slide right off of latex gloves, so you might apply it to a clean piece of gauze and use that to wipe it onto the wound.
Consider a Bandage
Depending on the severity of the wound and its location on your horse, you might choose to bandage it. Wounds on the lower legs generally benefit from bandaging because they’re so prone to contamination by dirt and mud. Generally wounds higher up on your horse’s body won’t need bandaging. If you bandage a wound, use a clean gauze pad and apply Vetrap and a layer of duct tape to keep it in place. Change the bandage at least once, if not twice, every 24 hours.
Monitor the wound for signs of infection, which include heat, swelling, and discharge. Call your veterinarian if the wound becomes infected or doesn’t show signs of healing within a few days. Be sure to check and change bandages regularly, and depending on the wound you may need to perform additional cleanings.
With some TLC you can help your horse recover from many wounds. Be sure to keep a fully stocked first-aid kit on hand so you’re prepared for any injuries you might encounter.
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