It can be confusing dealing with injuries and we hope that this information will help you to determine the correct course of action if your horse is injured.
Our practice prides itself on our customer service. Please remember that you can phone us for advise free of charge.
Important information we will often need to know over the telephone when deciding how to treat a wound or if you require a visit.
Vets need to see wounds with:
First Aid on the Yard - see also our section on First aid
There are few things you can do prior to calling the vet, or to help you assess if you need a vet to attend.
PLEASE REMEMBER – injured horses can be unpredictable and act out of character. ALWAYS PUT YOUR SAFETY and THE SAFETY OF THOSE HELPING AROUND YOU FIRST. Fighting with a horse that is trying to kick or trample you to assess and clean an injury is not worth the risk. Call us out if you are in any way unsure.
Assess lameness at walk and trot. If the horse is lame at walk, don’t try to trot
Clean the area – either with the hose or cotton wool and warm water
Trim the hair away from the edges of a wound to assess it properly
Use a torch or well-lit area to assess depth and swelling
If swelling is present cold hose the area for a maximum of 10-15 mins
If the wound is only shallow and/or on the body or head;
-use dilute salt water or dilute hibiscrub to clean the wound daily
-monitor for lameness, pus and swelling daily
-avoid use of wound powder and sustained use of Animalintex on skin injuries these often complicate the healing process on wounds.
If bleeding is profuse apply pressure to the injured site until the vet gets there. This should be anything clean held over the wound firmly, if possible apply bandages to maintain the pressure. Please be assured that unless it is a very large vein or artery horses rarely lose enough blood to be of any significance to them despite the fact that it may look like lots.
Wounds over Joints/Tendon Sheaths
If your horse sustains an injury to the lower limb, knee or hock or over the stifle, elbow or shoulder joints, a vet should be consulted. A visit will be advised for anything deeper than 0.3cm. It is very serious if joint capsules or tendon sheaths are damaged and become infected. It can lead to euthanasia if the horse is not attended to quickly and further assessments made if necessary.
It is sometimes difficult to assess by examination alone if a joint/tendon sheath penetration and sepsis(infection) has occurred. The vet will use their knowledge of the anatomy of the affected area along with assessment of depth and direction of the wound to try to assess the risks. Often if we are unsure but feel that joint/tendon sheath sepsis is a possibility, we will take a sample of joint fluid for analysis or refer the horse to Leahurst for further investigation.
It is crucial that these wounds are seen by a vet within the first 24 hours, ideally in the first 6 hours as, if infection is present in a joint or tendon sheath, the horse will require surgery and flushing of the joint under general anaesthesia. Many horses will make a full and complete recovery within 4 weeks of this procedure, providing there are no complicating factors.
If these horses are not seen by a vet quickly, the horse will become progressively and severely lame. Unfortunately, if we see these cases after 2-3 days, the prognosis for a full recovery is much worse due to damage that the bacteria cause within the joint/tendon sheath. These horses often have to be euthanased.
The horse is sensitive to infection by Clostridium tetani, the bacteria responsible for causing the disease we call tetanus or “lock jaw” in people. The bacteria may be present in the soil and on dirty objects. It prefers conditions with low oxygen which is why it is associated with puncture wounds. Vaccination will protect your horse from this disease. If your horse is not vaccinated and sustains a wound, we will advise that the horse is given a dose of tetanus antitoxin. This will provide immediate protection from tetanus but only lasts for 2 weeks.
Wounds that are less than 0.3cm deep are probably not full skin thickness and have just taken the top layer (epidermis) off. They may bleed slightly but are of no real concern and may be dealt with without veterinary attention unless infection, localised swelling or lameness is present. Please remember a graze to the skin may appear to be slight but it may be associated with the skin having been twisted or stretched or with a blunt blow with subsequent bruising and inflammation developing. Cold hosing or cold compressing the site for five to ten minutes will often help to minimise the tissue reaction and reduce swelling.
Full Skin Thickness wounds
Wounds deeper than 0.3cm. These may gape a little revealing underlying muscle/deeper tissues. They will bleed, usually dripping/dribbling and may be stapled or sutured depending on examination suitability of the wound and location. Sometimes ragged wounds or wounds over area's with significant risk of movement or swelling will not be stapled. Similarly older wounds with signs of infection are usually not stapled or stitched. Obvious clean open wounds will often cause great concern especially if deep however of equal concern and often more sinister are puncture wounds that leave little or no evidence initially, especially if your horse is supporting a thick winter coat, but which can result in serious swelling and infection as time passes.
Clean cuts and lacerations are common when horses rush past sharp objects, get caught in fences or when they strike at each other or solid objects. Punctures are the result of skin penetration from nails, thorns and larger pointed objects and from barbed wire. Larger open wounds are easy to spot, flush out and clean (provided the horse is amenable) whereas punctures are not and often missed initially until swelling and infection become established.
Wounds with Pockets
Often what is visible on the surface of a wound is only half the story. A small wound may have a large pocket of injured tissue surrounding it beneath the skin. This may alter the treatment plan and mean that closing the wound by suturing is not suitable. Veterinary input is needed to assess this. Sadly such wounds are common in horses resulting from amongst other things kicks and falls on the road.
Wounds on the Body or Head
These wounds are unlikely to be of major concern if small and shallow and can usually be sutured or stapled if no pocket is present. This will reduce scarring and improve cosmetic appearance as well as speed healing.