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Wound healing in horses

Wounds are unfortunately very common in horses and you’re almost guaranteed to encounter one at some point! Careful management of wounds can help optimise the environment for healing and ensure as speedy a recovery as possible.

Why is calling my vet important when my horse has a wound?

The numerous ways that horses manage to injure themselves never fail to surprise – from running into gates, to finding the only sharp bit of wire in a field. Regardless of the cause of the wound, it is always best to call your vet so the best treatment can be initiated.

What factors affect wound healing in horses?

Unfortunately, wound healing cannot be accelerated in horses. However, being aware of the factors that affect wound healing and appropriate wound management can help to optimise healing.

– Wound location

– Wound type

– Blood supply to the wound

– Wound contamination

Wound location

Wound location often determines how a wound can be practically managed to optimise healing. Wounds located on the legs can be bandaged, but usually require immobilisation, as the skin in this area doesn’t contract well. Leg wounds over joints or points of movement can be very challenging to immobilise adequately so are often not suitable for stitching. Wounds over joints also need further assessment to determine if the joint itself is affected.

Wounds on the chest cannot easily be bandaged, however, the skin is loose and can often be readily stitched.

Wound type

One of the most important factors affecting wound healing is the depth and type of wound. Wounds broadly fall into four categories:

  1. Abrasions: generally superficial, mild and typically heal quickly without stitches or bandaging
  2. Puncture wounds: these can be deceiving. There may not be much to see on the surface, but there can be damage underneath where an object has penetrated deep into the underlying tissues. Infection may be an issue, and these wounds should be encouraged to drain
  3. ‘Slicing’ wounds: these usually have smooth edges which can be aligned, making them suitable for stitching
  4. Lacerations: these usually have rough edges, and there may be damage to the underlying tissues. They are often best managed as open wounds

Blood supply to the wound

All healing wounds need a blood supply to bring the nutrients needed for healing to the site. A wound in an area of poor blood circulation is more likely to take longer to heal. Sometimes, a wound is so large that the injury itself has damaged all the blood vessels supplying the wounded area, resulting in delayed healing until the blood vessels have healed first.

Wound contamination

Wounds can be contaminated by foreign bodies or bacteria. If the contamination is not eliminated, delayed healing or even non-healing will result. To ensure normal healing, wounds must be cleared of foreign objects and flushed to reduce bacterial contamination. Your vet may advise antibiotics for your horse if infection is suspected.

How can I support my horse with a wound?

Always follow advice from your vet on how to best manage your horse. They’ll usually need a period of rest and may need to be stabled and bandaged. Remember that care for your horse during this period should go beyond just their wound. There is likely to be a change in your horse’s routine and this can have an impact on your horse’s digestive tract and well-being. Addressing this can be a key part of supporting their recovery. Nutri-Gard Extra, with B Vitamins, prebiotics, and digestible fibre provides multi-action support for digestive health and is ideal for stabled horses or those experiencing sudden diet changes. Protein is vital for healing, so it is important that your horse is not only getting enough in their diet, but that it is good quality. For horses that find being stabled a challenge, a calming equine supplement such as Nutri-calm can help.

Wound first aid tips:
  • – Ensure it is safe to approach your horse
  • – Restrain and calm your horse
  • – Call your veterinary surgeon and act on any advice they give
  • – Cold Hose the wounded area with clean fresh water from a low-pressure hose for at least 10 minutes
  • – Apply a clean pressure bandage to the wound that is actively bleeding until your vet arrives (do not apply a tourniquet)
Wound bandaging tips (light bandage):
  • – Restrain your horse
  • – Ensure the leg for bandaging is clean and dry
  • – Have your clean, dry bandage materials ready
  • – Treat the wound as recommended by your vet
  • – Apply a non-stick dressing directly to the wound (or a dressing provided by your vet)
  • – Encircle the leg with cotton-wool padding to a depth of one inch (avoid wrinkles in this layer)
  • – Use a cohesive bandage to hold cotton padding in place.
    • – – Tip: begin at mid-height on the inside of the leg and unroll from front towards the back
    • – – Tip: Overlap successive layers of cohesive bandage by half the thickness of the bandage
  • – Ensure the cohesive bandage is not too tight
    • – – Tip: One finger should easily fit between the cohesive bandage and cotton padding
  • – Leave half an inch of cotton padding free at the top and bottom of the bandage
  • – Replace the bandage every three days, or more frequently if advised by your vet or required by the wound exudate.

If you aren’t confident in bandaging, either ask someone more experienced to do it for you or ask your vet to show you how. Poorly applied bandages can delay would healing and cause additional problems.

It is important to consult your vet with any questions or concerns about wounds on your horse – they will always be happy to give advice.

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