Symptoms: Variable, depending on the type of wound, its severity and location. Minor lacerations are superficial (penetrating the skin but not the deeper structures—muscles, tendons or joints), cause minimal bleeding and don’t occur in critical areas, such as the lower legs, over joints or near the eyes.
Major lacerations involve deeper structures, cause major bleeding and/or occur in critical areas. Many puncture wounds are difficult to detect without close examination, although swelling and soreness may be evident in the wound area.
What to do: Some wounds are emergencies, while others are not. For a major laceration or a puncture wound that penetrates a body cavity (chest or abdomen) or occurs in a critical area, call your vet immediately. For a minor laceration or puncture wound, administer first aid, then consult your vet during regular hours. If you’re not sure whether the wound is minor or major, contact your vet for further advice.
Keep your horse quiet, especially if the wound is a major one and is bleeding a lot. To stop bleeding, apply direct pressure to the wound with gauze pads, bandage material or clean cloths/towels, adding more pads or cloths on top if they become blood-soaked (don’t remove pads to see if the bleeding has stopped). It’s OK to secure the pads over the wound with medical tape or a wrap, but don’t attempt to apply a tourniquet.
Clean a minor laceration or puncture wound by flushing it with cool water and removing any visible foreign material. Apply an antiseptic ointment such as Betadine or Novalsan. If you’re treating a laceration, wrap it if possible; this usually isn’t necessary for a minor puncture wound.
Clean a major laceration or puncture wound by flushing it with cool water, unless you’ve had trouble getting the bleeding to stop. Don’t try to remove foreign material, and don’t apply or administer any medication unless your vet tells you to. If possible, wrap the wound to keep it clean until the vet arrives.
Outlook: The prognosis for a wound depends on its location and severity, as well as the horse’s response to treatment. Wounds that involve joints, tendons or body cavities (chest or abdomen) are more likely to have a guarded prognosis. Recovery from a severe wound can take months and may involve rather intensive nursing care.
Familiarity with your horse’s normal, healthy demeanor and attentive daily care will help you detect problems early, and a basic knowledge of common equine ailments will help you know which ones constitute true emergencies and when to call the vet.
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This article originally appeared in the 2012 issue of Horses USA. Click here to purchase the most recent issue.