There are a variety of ways in which your horse can end up injuring himself. Something as simple as a cut on the leg from a thorn bush or a skin abrasion from rubbing against a fence post can end up being irritating and harmful. If your horse is able to figure out a way to injure himself, he probably will. Horses are practically a walking veterinarian bill.
Humans often form a close bond with their horses, so it can be hard for them to control their emotions when their beloved companions are hurt. Therefore, we included a guide on what to do when your horse gets injured, along with a list of first aid supplies you should have on hand and how you should treat a wound depending on how it was obtained as well as its severity.
- Tips on on handling yourself and your horse
- Animal Bites
- Basic Treatment Kits
- Foot abscess
- Signs of blood shock
- Symptoms of healing
- Signs of infection
How to handle yourself when your horse injures himself
You need to remember to stay calm. While this is easier said than done, you are more helpful to your horse when you are calm and collected than when you act scared and frazzled. Don’t be afraid to ask for help too, as additional hands will help quicken the process of bandaging a wound or cleaning a cut. It may also prevent injury to you, which would, in turn, hinder your ability to help your horse.
Be active in preventing serious infection and injury by keeping your horses vaccinated. For instance, tetanus can result from an infected wound.
Basic Treatment Kit
Here are some supplies to have on hand in case your horse gets injured.
- Protection and condition spray for abrasions
- Gentle iodine solution to clean fresh wounds
- Sterile gauze pads to clean and cover minor wounds with, use rolls to hold dressings
- Bandages to protect wounds and hold ice or muscles
- Wound care ointment or spray
- Vaseline to help insert thermometers
- Horse thermometer
- Ice packs to reduce swelling
- Leg wraps
- Scissors to cut bandages and wraps
- Rubbing alcohol to disinfect scissors, thermometers, etc.
- Surgical gloves to keep hands clean and prevent wound contamination
- White tape and duct tape
- Hand towels and large towels
Imagine walking by your horse’s pasture. You catch him squabbling with another horse when your horse suddenly scrapes himself against a fence. Upon closer inspection, you notice your horse has a small skin abrasion on the side of one of his legs.
While they are usually superficial wounds, skin abrasions can still be quite painful for a horse. Abrasions usually occur when your horse scrapes himself against a rough surface, or if it is given a poorly fitting saddle or blanket.
When you first notice the injury, make sure you assess the full extent of the damage. While the trauma may be spread out across the skin, there usually aren’t any deep breaks or cuts in it. However, be on the lookout for any hard to see punctures in the skin. Depending on how your horse was injured, there may be broken or chipped bone underneath the skin. Contact your veterinarian if the abrasion was large or caused by a fall.
As you examine the injury, make sure your horse stays calm. Too much movement will cause the wound to continue to bleed. Apply pressure to the wound using a clean towel or sterile bandage. Once the bleeding has stopped, clean the wound with a mild disinfectant to remove debris and clear bacteria. Do not rub the area too vigorously, as it may cause further damage.
Hose the wounded area with cool water to reduce swelling and apply ointment to it to help speed up the healing process.
An animal bite can be pretty serious depending on how deep the wound is. Other horses and dogs can bite pretty hard. Puncture wounds should be something to look for when examining your horse, as they will likely need further medical attention from a veterinarian. Make sure your horse has his rabies and tetanus vaccines, and that any other vaccinations he has received are current.
For superficial bites, clean them with an iodine-based solution. A first-aid spray may help as well. Call your veterinarian if you find deep bites on your horse’s skin.
Even a small cut or laceration on a horse’s tendon or ligaments can be harmful and cause lameness. If it is a minor wound, apply a light iodine solution and antiseptic to it. Stop bleeding on larger lacerations before calling your vet.
Before examining a laceration on a leg wound, remember to wrap the opposite leg with a standing wrap as it is likely to be holding a substantially high amount of the animal’s weight as a result of the injury. When evaluating the cut, it is important to note that even a cut that appears skin-deep can damage the ligaments and tendons below the skin. If you find a deep cut while observing the area, you will need to call your vet.
Call your veterinarian immediately if you notice your horse has a puncture wound. They are caused by sharp objects penetrating deep into the skin, muscle, or hooves. Due to the possibility of infection, puncture wounds should always be considered severe. Unless there is heavy bleeding, do not try to stop it as the bleeding flushes out foreign objects and bacteria. If a leg joint has been punctured, make sure you support the limb opposite it.
Signs of a foot abscess include sensitivity around the coronary band and an increased pulse in the foot. Search for any foreign objects at the bottom of the foot. If you find an object that is significantly protruding from it, you can either cut it until it is closer to the foot or attach small wooden blocks to the foot to prevent the object from digging any deeper into it. Do not remove the object without contacting a veterinarian first, as he or she will likely want to take a radiograph of it to determine whether any deeper structures are affected by the object.
Signs of blood shock
Animals begin to show signs of blood shock when they lose 10% of their blood volume. Signs of blood shock include weakness, full body sweating, colic, an increasingly elevated heart rate, and pale mucous membranes. Since, on average, adult horses weigh 1,200 pounds, they can lose up to eight quarts of blood before they hit 10% of their blood volume.
Most of the time, there appears to be more bleeding than there actually is from a wound. Nonetheless, owners should still attempt to control the bleeding. You should have leg wrap material on hand from your first aid kit. Remember, however, that if the wrap is too thick, it will decrease the amount of pressure that can be applied to a wound in order to adequately control the bleeding. So make sure the bandage is wrapped tightly and smoothly enough to apply significant pressure to the wound.
Symptoms of Infection
Look out for these common signs of infection:
- Excessive heat at the site of injury compared to the rest of the horse’s body
- Continuing pain even after several days have passed since the injury occurred
- Reddened skin or streaks radiating outward from the wound
- “Strange” or pungent odor emitting from the site of injury
- Green or yellow tinted pus or fluid leaking from the wound
- Worsening or return of swelling even after the initial irritation has subsided
- Increased tenderness to wound and surrounding area
Stages of healing
There will initially be heavy inflammation around the wound. During this period, white blood cells are being sent to the site of injury to kill bacterial contaminants in the wound. This is what causes the inflammation. After this so-called “killing phase,” more cells come in to ingest debris in the wound. Then, new cells come in to repair the wound and generate new tissue. In the later stages of healing, which occur around 24 hours after the injury, the epithelial cells (skin cells) migrate to the wound.
Within the next week, there will be an ingrowth of blood vessels within the wound bed, bringing in more help to remove damaged tissue. After this process is finished, granulation tissue, made up of cells that will eventually become more substantial tissue, will develop over the wound. Most wounds don’t heal with the original tissue, so most of the replacement tissue ends up being scar tissue that cannot perform the same functions as the original tissue could before it was injured.
Wound contraction, in which the edges of the skin are pulled together, occurs next. The “late stage” comes last. During this stage, damaged tissue with regenerative capabilities and scar tissue begin to reach maturation.
It is important to note that factors such as the location of the wound, type of tissue affected, and the seriousness of the injury affect the healing process. So, the sooner a wound is noticed, the better the prognosis you will get for the wound in the long run.
Dealing with a sick or injured horse can be stressful. Luckily for you, we are here to help out. Remember to take all precautionary steps listed above, and to have an updated first aid kit on hand. And don’t be afraid to call a vet if a wound looks particularly concerning.