Not only are horse wounds painful for your four-legged friend, they can be incredibly inconvenient and expensive for you — especially if you have to make a visit to the vet. So what can you do to make the healing process a bit easier, and most of all, to avoid that dreaded, costly visit to the vet? The following article will help you decide whether to bring your horse to the vet initially, and give you tips for after the vet or your own initial care to ensure that the healing process doesn’t go awry.
Should I take my horse to the vet?
It’s a big question, with possibly expensive consequences if you choose the wrong option. However, most horse wounds can be taken care of from home — there are only a few exceptions:
- A wound that gapes when your horse moves
- A wound that is dangerously close to a tendon, joint, or bone — the most delicate parts of a horse’s structure
- A wound that is losing an excessive amount of blood
- A wound that is very dirty
- A wound that is older than six hours
- A wound that prevents your horse from walking normally
Other than these extreme injuries, most scrapes can be cared for from the comfort of your barn. If you want to know more about horse wound types and when to visit the vet, this guide should help you out. Now that you can make an informed decision about a vet visit, let’s get into the tips and tricks of wound care.
Don’t use ointments
Despite the strong instinct that putting a creamy substance on a wound will help it heal, you should not look to ointments in first-aid situations. The second of the four stages of horse wound healing, known as debridement, can be inhibited by creams or powders.
This is a wet, oozy stage in which it might seem like the wound is actually getting worse, but in fact all that moisture is created by migrating of white blood cells to site of the wound. These white blood cells need to be able to move around so they can break down all the dirt and debris that might cause infection, but they are not able to do so if an ointment is in the way. Not only that, but white blood cells are trained to recognize any foreign materials as harmful, so they may start attacking the cream instead of the genuinely harmful material within the wound.
An easy alternative treatment that keeps the wound moist — the favored environment of white blood cells — as well as allowing the cells to move around freely is Fauna Care’s Equine Sprays. In addition to helping out the white blood cells, these sprays also contain other substances that have been shown to help wounds heal. That way, you will have to deal with the other details of wound care mentioned below as little as possible — and you can avoid a visit to the vet.
The best place for your horse to heal is her stall.
Keep your horse still
I know, I know — it’s frustrating for both the horses and you to keep them cooped up, but it is absolutely essential to the healing process. If your horse moves too much, the tissues around the wound can be pulled, preventing skin from growing properly over the wound.
This disruption of the healing process can result in what is known as proud flesh — when connective tissue and blood vessels begin to fill in the wound instead of skin. Eventually, the proud flesh will grow into a mound of pink tissue with an appearance similar to cauliflower that stands out above the skin. This could stall healing indefinitely, as skin is unable to grow in over the wound, and you will have to make another few visits to the vet so that the proud flesh can be debrided — essentially, removed.
To prevent your horse from moving too much, keep her in her stall or in a pen until the wound has healed. Additional help can come from bandages, which can keep the limb still, or, for larger wounds, splinting. Be sure to ask your vet for advice.
Bandaging may look hard, but you’ll get the hang of it in no time.
Become a pro at bandaging
As mentioned above, bandaging is an important way to keep the wound as still as possible, but it also serves the equally crucial purposes of keeping the wound clean and holding topical medicines against it. Bandages should generally be used for wounds below the elbow — wounds above generally don’t move enough to require bandaging. However, bandages can do more harm than good if they are too tight or too loose, so you want to make sure that you are applying them correctly.
First, though, you should decide what exactly will make up your bandage. Most bandages have three parts:
- Wound dressing
- The bandage itself
The wound dressing is the first line of defense that lays directly on the wound, so it’s important that you choose the right one. Fortunately, there are many options. Which dressing you ultimately choose should depend on the type of wound and stage of healing — so you might have to do a little research. The basic, general option is sterile gauze pad, but healing is often faster if the wound is kept moist, so a better option may be dressings that are designed for that purpose, like calcium alginate or foam pads.
The purpose of the padding is exactly what the name implies — it cushions and protects the limb, as well as evenly spreading the pressure applied by the dressing. This effect can be achieved using many materials, including roll cotton, sheet cotton, combine cotton, and cotton or flannel quilted wraps.
The bandage secures these other layers and compresses them against the wound. There are too many options for bandages to list — basically any product labeled for this use will do. If you are bandaging your horse’s leg, you want to choose a bandage that is four to six inches wide, as a smaller one could constrict the leg.
Bandaging may seem difficult the first few times through as you do have to be a bit coordinated, but you should become a pro in no time.
Make sure the wound is clean and dry
Dirt, debris, and uneven moisture, if trapped beneath a bandage, can lead to all sorts of infections
Wrap the gauze
This initial layer has the purpose of keeping the dressing in place, and should start just above the wound. The gauze be pulled just tightly enough to stay put but not enough to stretch its weave. The most important part of this step is keeping this tension consistent throughout the wrap — each layer should lay smoothly and overlap at least half of the preceding layer. This layer, as well as all layers after it, should be wrapped from front to back, outside to inside, especially on a leg, to ensure that the pressure is not on any tendons. When you reach the area of the wound, lay the dressing flat against the wound before wrapping the gauze on top of it, continuing with the wrap a little way beyond where the dressing ends.
Wrap the padding
The most important consideration with the padding is that it lays flat, as wrinkles could cause the much-dreaded pressure points. This layer should be at least one inch in thickness to prevent constriction and, again, unwanted pressure points, so you may have to wrap it several times to achieve the desired thickness. An additional layer of rolled gauze would help keep the padding in place as you wrap the bandage, but it is not necessary for any other purpose.
The bandage is the final step to hold the wound in place.
Wrap the bandage
The bandage should start about a half inch below the beginning of your padding, and there should be a half inch of padding left out at the end. Through the wrapping process, make sure the bandage itself as well as the padding under it is not bunching or wrinkling. Like with the gauze, each layer should overlap the preceding one by half to ensure that the pressure of the bandage is evenly distributed.
It may seem hard at first glance, but remember — you should be changing these bandages every day, so even if you fumble a bit at first, you will get used to it. Even if the bandage doesn’t look all that neat, as long as it provides a constant pressure, it will get the job done. If you’re unconfident in your wrapping abilities, ask your vet to supervise and give you pointers — but as a horse owner, you will have to learn to wrap eventually. Once the wound develops granulation tissue to cover it, you can stop bandaging it as this tissue will work to keep out any bothersome bacteria that could cause infection.
The healing process is never the easiest thing in the world, and it often takes longer than you suspect. However, if you follow these tips for your horse’s wound care, you and your horse can both be feeling more comfortable in no time. Remember, though, that if you suspect that anything is going wrong throughout the healing process, you should contact your vet. It may be inconvenient, it may be expensive, but you never want to risk your horse’s life.