Wound Healing in Horses

Wound Healing in Horses
5 July 2017 | Foran Equine


Careful management of all the factors affecting wound healing in horses will optimise the environment for healing and ensure as speedy a recovery as possible.

Wounds are one of the most common reasons for a horse to present to a veterinary surgeon. Fortunately, with the right attention a horse will usually make a full recovery from this type injury.

Most horses wound themselves on something, eg. the horse gallops into a fence posts, the horse cuts its skin on wire or the horse stands on a nail etc… the list goes on.  For this reason when a veterinary surgeon, is called to examine a “wounded horse” it is an open ended proposition and encompasses everything from bruises, to protruding eye balls. The goal of every veterinary surgeon and horse owner when faced with a wounded horse is maximise healing of the injury and prevent further damage.

A number of factors affect how a wound will heal and consequently how your veterinary surgeon will deal with the wound.

Wound Location

One of the most variable factors affecting wound healing is the location.

Wounds located on the legs can be bandaged. But the skin of the legs does not contract well so these wounds must be immobilised.  Leg wounds over joints, or points of movement cannot be adequately immobilised and so are often not suitable for stitching. In this case it is normal to recommend bandaging and stabling the horse. Wounds on the chest cannot easily be bandaged, however the skin is loose and can often be readily stitched. It would be normal to stitch, cover with an adhesive dressing and stable the horse.

Wound Depth

One of the most important factors affecting wound healing is the depth of wound. Wounds broadly fall into three categories of depth.

  1. Superficial injuries:  The wound is not the full thickness of the skin. Superficial wounds typically heal quickly and do not require stitches or bandage.
  2. Skin injuries: The wound is the full thickness of the skin. Skin wounds respond well to stitching and if stitched heal within two to three weeks.
  3. Deep injuries: The wound is through the full thickness of the skin into the underlying muscle. Deep wounds are the most difficult to heal. They are typically not suitable for stitching, are prone to infection and often ooze fluid requiring frequent bandage changes.

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 predisposed to delayed healing. Areas of relatively poor blood circulation include the lower legs and underside of hoof. Sometimes the wound itself is so large as to have damaged all the blood vessels supplying the wounded area, resulting in delayed healing until the blood supply vessels have healed.

Poor blood supply, delaying wound healing is the primary reason for proud flesh development on wounds. Unchecked proud flesh development on wounds leads to protruding, red raw flesh on the wound, which skin does not cover over. Proud flesh should be examined by your veterinary surgeon, who will often cut it back and bandage the wound.

Wound Contamination

Of the external factors affecting wound healing, wound contamination is probably the most important. Wounds may be contaminated by foreign objects or bacteria. Either type of contamination if not eliminated, will result in delayed healing or even non-healing.

Bacterial contamination of wounds can occur in a number of ways but the most common are:

  • Bacteria introduced by the wounding object. Example: where a horse is impaled on a piece of wood, the piece of wood introduces bacteria into the wound at the time of wounding
  • Bacterial colonisation of untended wounds. Example: where a wound goes unnoticed for a number of hours or days, the normal bacteria present on the horse’s skin begin to colonise the wound

To ensure normal healing, wounds must be cleared of foreign objects and flushed to reduce the bacterial contamination. Often an injectable course of antibiotics is prescribed for wounded horses.

Unfortunately, the progress of wound healing cannot be accelerated in horses. However, careful management of all the factors affecting wound healing in order to optimise the environment for healing will ensure as speedy a recovery as possible.

First Aid Wound Management Tips

  • Restrain and calm the horse
  • Cold Hose the wounded area with clean fresh water from a low pressure hose for at least 10 minutes
  • Call your veterinary surgeon
  • Apply clean pressure bandage to wound that is actively bleeding until veterinary surgeon arrives (untrained persons should not apply a tourniquet)

Horse Wound Bandaging Tips

  • Restrain the horse
  • Ensure horse leg for bandaging is clean and dry
  • Gather required clean, dry bandage materials
  • Treat wound as recommended by your veterinary surgeon
  • Apply non-stick dressing directly to wound
  • Encircle leg with cotton padding to depth of one inch. Tip: Avoid wrinkles in cotton padding
  • Use cohesive bandage to hold cotton padding in place. Tip: begin at mid-height on inside of leg an unroll from front towards the back. Tip: Overlap successive layers of cohesive bandage by half the thickness of the bandage.
  • Ensure cohesive bandage is not too tight. Tip: One finger should easily fit between bandage and cotton padding
  • Leave half inch of cotton padding free at top and bottom of bandage

Remove bandage every three days, or more frequently if advised by your veterinary surgeon or required by the wound exudate.