Wound First Aid

Horse-health tips to ensure that wounds heal as quickly as possible.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal.

The cut was a small, seemingly minor scrape that most horse owners would treat themselves. In fact, the owners treated the wound themselves. They cleaned the wound and administered penicillin and phenylbutazone. Four days later, the horse became lame.

The condition worsened, and three days later, they were referred to Dr. Ted Stashak, who at that time, was at Colorado State University’s Vet Teaching Hospital. The horse was diagnosed with septic arthritis of the coffin joint and also suffered laminitis in his other forefoot from uneven weight bearing.

“It was a case that could have been managed with a high degree of success with less cost had it been brought in shortly after the injury to have it examined,” Dr. Stashak says.

Horses have a way of sustaining injuries, no matter how alert their owners are. Knowledge and preparedness are a horseman’s best first aid.

When to Call the Vet

“Many of the cases that veterinarians deal with, are ones that were managed in most cases initially by the horse owners,” Dr. Stashak warns. “A lack of recognition of how serious an injury is causes it to become serious due to infection.”

So when is a cut not just a wound?

In most cases, Dr. Stashak says, superficial wounds that do not gape open can be managed by a horse owner.

Cuts, scrapes and bumps are inevitable parts of horse ownership. Learn the necessary components of a first-aid kit, when to contact the vet and how to bandage a wound in AQHA's FREE "Horse Wound Care" report.

Any wound that overlies a synovial structure is at risk of developing an infection that can be career-ending or life-threatening.

Synovial structures are located in joints and as sheaths protecting tendons and contain a yellowish lubricating, protective fluid. Often, puncture wounds can look very minor but can penetrate deep enough to invade the delicate capsules. Any wound over a synovial region that leaks yellow fluid requires immediate care by a veterinarian.

Other situations that require a call to the veterinarian are:
•    A laceration that is gaping open, requiring stitches.
•    Any wound that does not appear to be healing; it could be infected or have a foreign body imbedded deep in the wound.
•    Any wound near or involving the eye.
•    Any injury or wound involving blood coming from the nostril; it could involve fractured facial bones, or the cut could penetrate the nasal cavity or sinus and lead to more serious problems.

Care by Owner

If a wound is heavily contaminated, first use a water hose to remove dirt and other contaminants. Then pack the wound with gauze or a clean towel to prevent any more contamination. Clip the hair around the wound. If you do not have clippers, use a disposable razor.

Wash out the wound at an angle, using a 60 mL syringe and a 19-gauge needle or a spray bottle. Both of these deliver the liquid at an ideal force. Fluid delivered at a higher pressure might drive bacteria deeper into the wound or damage tissue.

If repeated washings of the wound are needed, Dr. Stashak recommends using a Hydro-T massage nozzle to deliver a safe stream of water rather than a hose.

Hydrogen peroxide, an antimicrobial commonly used to clean wounds, can damage tissue and is not recommended.

Once the wound is cleaned, Dr. Stashak recommends a triple antibiotic or antibiotic spray. Repeatedly applying a nitrofurazone product (such as Fura-Zone) can delay healing.

As for bandaging, “upper body wounds are very difficult to manage,” Dr. Stashak says, so keep them wrapped longer. Lower body wounds should be covered until a healthy bed of granulation tissue develops.”

Keep a wound bandage on a horse that is in a small paddock or a location where contamination is likely.

Studies have shown unbandaged wounds take longer to heal – up to 30 percent longer, according to Dr. Stashak – as they tend to dry out. This is especially true for any injuries to the knee and hock and below.

AQHA's FREE "Horse Wound Care" report has everything that a horse-owner needs to care for a horse's gashes, bumps and scrapes. Utilize the 5-step illustration for wound wrapping and find out what to stock in your first-aid kit and download this report now.

A danger with any wound is the possibility of proud flesh developing. If this occurs, contact your veterinarian.

Preparing for the Vet

If a horse’s wound is in a dangerous area or is serious enough to need your veterinarian’s assistance, there is first aid you can do to help the situation.

Bacteria adhere to the wound surface by an electrostatic charge. Within approximately three to six hours, they invade the tissues and begin to damage them, so prompt care is recommended.

First, clean the wound and protect it as described previously, then remove hair with either clippers or a disposable razor.

Rinse the wound again and apply an antibiotic ointment (such as triple antibiotic or nitrafurazone product). Put a temporary cover over the wound, such as a clean Telfa pad or 4 x 4 gauze pads, wrapped so that it will stay on the wound.

“That will minimize further contamination,” Dr. Stashak says, “and shortens the length of the vet’s visit. It also prepares the wound for the best opportunity to heal and minimizes the chances for infection.”

AQHA Member Benefit Spotlight

It's not too early to start Christmas shopping for the horse-lover in your family! Find great deals with our handy, Holiday gift guide.