Wound Healing

This factsheet provides you with information on what to do and what to expect when you first see your horse has a wound.
Wounds can be:

  • Partial skin thickness – Grazes
  • Full skin thickness – Lacerations
  • Puncture wounds – have a very small surface wound but have potential for damage to deeper structures 

First Aid

Once you have seen that your horse is injured, the first thing to do is to move it to a safe place to prevent further injury.
Calm the horse down and get assistance to hold the horse while you examine the wound. Take great care as even the most placid of horses may behave unpredictably when in pain, which may result in you being injured.
Try and evaluate the wound and call us if you need any advice. You should definitely contact us if you feel there is:

  • Excessive Bleeding
  • A puncture wound through the whole skin surface, especially if the wound is on the legs
  • A wound close to a joint or tendon
  • An infected or contaminated wound

You should also contact the surgery if your horse has not been vaccinated against tetanus. Horses are one of the most susceptible domestic species to tetanus, which can often be fatal. 

Until the vet arrives, practical things to do include:

  • Washing the wound using clean water and a very dilute solution of Hibiscrub (dilution of approx 1 part hibiscrub to 20 parts water)
  • Cover the wound with a sterile wound dressing such as a Melolin pad
  • Apply a bandage with firm but even pressure. Ensure the bandage is not too tight to cut off circulation
  • Do NOT apply ointments, sprays or creams 

Veterinary Assessment
The vet will perform a thorough examination of the wound. If the horse is very stressed, we may sedate them in order for us to fully examine the wound. Not only are we looking at the visible wound, but we are assessing whether any deeper structures such as tendon sheaths or joints have been penetrated. If these are left untreated, a life threatening infection may occur. Any wounds in the region of the joints or tendons should be check out by a vet, especially if the horse is lame on that leg.
We will then decide how to manage the wound in one of 3 ways:

  • Primary Wound Closure – The wound is cleaned and stitched straight away. To have the best chance of healing, the wound should be stitched within the first 3 to 6 hours. After this time, the level of bacterial infection is too great and the wound will probably break down, resulting in the stitches not holding
  • Delayed Primary Closure – If there is some wound contamination, but the wound is quite recent, the wound may be thoroughly cleaned and bandaged for several days. After this time, the infection may be under control and the swelling reduced. It may then be possible to stitch up the wound without the risk of it breaking down.
  • Second Intention Healing – If the wound is too old, too contaminated or if there is not enough skin to pull over the deficit, then the wound may be left to heal on it’s own, with or without dressings. This takes much longer for a wound to heal in this way than by suturing a clean wound. 

We will then provide tetanus cover (if your horse is not vaccinated) and antibiotics if appropriate.

Wherever possible, it is best to dress wounds. The wound is kept moist, allowing skin cells the chance to start the healing process, whereas in an open wound these cells may often dry out and die.
Horses are very prone to proud flesh developing on wounds to the lower limbs. There is very little muscle in these regions, just tendons and bones. Proud flesh is when the healing tissue (granulation tissue) is over-produced by the body and grows as a pink lump which protrudes form the wound. There are now special dressings with a charcoal base that inhibit the formation of proud flesh whilst allowing the wound to heal.
First Aid Kit
Below are suggestions of what you may need in a first aid kit:

  • Cotton Wool
  • Sterile non-adherent dressings (eg Melolin pads)
  • Hibiscrub antiseptic solution
  • Bandages
  • Clean bucket
  • Scissors
  • Your vet’s telephone number
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