AAEP Convention 2005: Horseman's Day Wound Management

The first sight of blood can prompt a frantic call to the veterinarian, but a second examination of the wound with a cool head might prove it to be less of an emergency. To help horse owners distinguish between emergencies and a wound that doesn’t require a midnight visit, Erin Denney-Jones, DVM, of Florida Equine Veterinary Service, described scenarios when an emergency call is warranted, and what the owner could do while waiting on the veterinarian to arrive, during the 51st Annual AAEP Convention, in Seattle, Wash., Dec. 3-7, 2005.

When to Call the Vet

When faced with an injury, Denney-Jones said an owner should call a veterinarian even if he/she is unsure how severe the wound is. “I’d rather get a heads-up so I can know how my day is going to go,” said Denney-Jones.
She offered questions horse owners should ask themselves to determine the degree of the emergency:

Does the bleeding stop with direct pressure?
“Excessive bleeding will be different for the horse owner than it will be to me,” Denney-Jones said. As a general rule, if the bleeding doesn’t stop after applying pressure to the wound for 10 minutes, a veterinarian should be called immediately.

Is the horse lame and is there bone involved? Is it a puncture wound? “A simple puncture wound can be very drastic,” Denney-Jones said. “A puncture wound can go into a joint, or a piece of debris could remain in the cavity. It doesn’t matter where the puncture is located, call your vet and have him look at it.”

Are there signs of infection? These include heat, swelling, pus, and pain.

Is an eye involved? Torn eyelids are common. The upper eyelid is important to the function of the eye and a vet should be called to repair it.

Is there a nail in the hoof? “If you find a nail in your horse’s hoof, do not pull it out if you don’t have to,” Jones said. She discouraged the knee-jerk reaction of removing a nail until a veterinarian can X ray the hoof to determine if the nail has penetrated a bony structure. “If you must remove the nail, somehow mark where it entered. If you can leave the nail in, and keep them where they are--that’s best.”

What do you do when the vet has to be called?

• Keep your patient quiet;
• Bring a buddy up--to reduce separation anxiety;
• Feed hay while waiting;
• Keep yourself quiet and calm; since horses react to people;
• Groom them (most horses love to be groomed).

Initial Wound Care

While waiting for the veterinarian to arrive, the owner might be instructed to clean and wrap the horse’s wound. Denney-Jones recommended spraying sterile saline on the wound to clean pieces of rock and other debris from it. However, avoid using hydrogen peroxide in deep wounds because the bubbling action can push tissue layers apart. Denney-Jones warned not to flush a puncture wound because it can push debris further into the cavity, making it more difficult to find and remove.

“Worse come to worst, if you have to--use a hose,” Denney-Jones said. “Ask the vet when you have them on the phone if you can go a head and use tap water to clean some of the debris out.”

First Aid Kit

Denney-Jones suggested having three different kits (one for the saddle bag, at home, and the trailer). A tackle box or tool box can be used for storing supplies in a trailer or at home. Make sure your kits have these item:

• Thermometer;
• Sterile water (saline);
• Betadine/Nolvasan solution (not scrubs, which contain detergents that irritate wounds);
• Antibacterial cream (Neosporin, etc.);
• Gauze pads;
• Non-adhesive pads;
• Stethoscope;
• 3-4 inch gauze rolls;
• Cotton quilts;
• Vetrap/standing wraps; and
• Prescribed medications.


To place a bandage, Denney-Jones said to first cover the wound with a non-adhesive sterile gauze pad with or without antibiotic ointment. Use roll gauze to keep the pad in place. Then place a quilt or cotton over the area so the wound is centered beneath the bandage.

Start the wrap at the inside of the leg and wrap the leg from front to back, outside to inside (counterclockwise on left legs, clockwise on right legs).

“The key to bandaging is to make it smooth and tight,” Denney-Jones said. “Even with a stalled horse, a bandage will loosen in 24-36 hours. Changing a bandage every day is necessary to treat wounds, check suture lines for infection, and re-apply pressure to decrease swelling.” Improper bandaging will not only fail its intended purpose, but can potentially cause additional damage to the leg.

If a horse is non-weight bearing on one leg, Denney-Jones recommended wrapping the opposing limb to support the added load.

“There’s nothing complicated about learning to apply bandages,” Denney-Jones said. “If you have never bandaged a horse’s legs, ask your veterinarian to demonstrate the proper techniques.  Always remember practice makes perfect.”

About the Author

Chad Mendell

Chad Mendell is the former Managing Editor for TheHorse.com .

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