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Equine Wound Management

Horses are adept at causing themselves injury, and some basic guidelines for treatment can make a difference in how fast and successfully a wound will heal.

The correct care of horse wounds is aimed at:

  • minimising infection by keeping the wound clean and free from flies and using antibacterial drugs, especially in the acute stage of the injury
  • having wounds sutured within 6 hours of the injury
  • restricting the movement of the wound edges on the lower limbs with pressure bandaging
  • ensuring that all deep wounds have good drainage
  • protecting the injured horse against tetanus.

Immediate actions

Call us immediately if your horse suffers a large, deep tear and/or there is obvious bleeding. Until a vet arrives, hook up a hose and continuously run cold, clean water over the wound. This helps clean the wound of debris and hair, constricts blood vessels and minimises swelling.

If your horse has not learnt to tolerate water, start by gently trickling water on the hooves until the horse settles, then slowly work your way up the limb to the injury. If bleeding continues after 15 minutes of cold hosing, use a clean towel or large amounts of cotton wool to apply pressure to the wound.

Don’t delay calling if the injury obviously requires stitches – it’s proven that all wounds are infected within 12 hours, and infection is the main cause of wound breakdown. The earlier the treatment, the better the outcome.

Next steps

This will depend on whether the injury is to be sutured, or treated as an open wound.

  • Open wounds respond well to daily hosing with cold water – regular application of water has been shown to stimulate the growth of new, healing tissue.
  • Injuries on the lower limbs, whether stitched or not, should be dressed to immobilise the wound edges or support the suture line. At the start, this should be done daily. Once the wound is less inflamed, dressings can remain on for 2-3 days between changes. Persevering with bandaging until a wound is healed is the best way to reduce scarring and encourage healing.
  • We recommend antibiotic injections for 5 to 7 days, a tetanus booster plus tetanus anti-toxin for fast protection.
  • Restrict the horse’s exercise until the wound is healed.

Proud flesh

Horses have a unique tendency to develop what is commonly called proud flesh or more correctly, exuberant granulation tissue. While granulation tissue is common and normal in would healing, horses often develop it in excess, with large, grape-like masses on the wound that prevent the wound edges from moving inwards.

This occurs most often on the lower limbs where high skin tension causes constant movement of the wound edges. If this occurs, the tissue should be trimmed back by a vet, and where possible, pressure bandaging applied.

Topical medications

In general, we discourage the use of ointments and old-fashioned remedies on horse wounds. Several may be worthwhile:

  • Proud Aid is a new (if expensive) product made in Tasmania. It is very effective in minimising the growth of proud flesh and increasing wound healing.
  • At CVH we routinely use non-pasteurised honey with good success on raw, open wounds (in small and large animals). It is very effective in helping to control bacterial infection and stimulating healthy tissue growth, especially in the early stages of healing.