As days are longer and warmer (hopefully!), many people start to think about getting back out there to work with their horses.
Horse people enjoy the time spent – working with healthy horses heals the soul. However, sooner or later, if you own horses, you will have to deal with an injured horse. I have always thought of horses as large, fast-moving and excitable animals that are covered with a fairly thin hide. Because of this combination, they can find any number of ways to damage their hide, requiring some first aid and often professional help to get the best results with repair.
Wounds come in all sizes and shapes. They need to be clean and in good condition with good blood supply and minimal swelling to get the best results with repair. Ideally, a wound should be treated within 4-6 hours to attempt to close it with sutures. It should be kept moist and have no harsh chemicals applied to the tissue.
When you find an injured horse, try to assess how much damage there is. Can the animal stand? Will he walk on his own or is he too reluctant? Is there ongoing bleeding?
Major structural damage should be assessed by your veterinarian for extent of the damage and to determine best treatment options. Bleeding should be controlled with applied pressure. Clean the wound with fresh clean water if the animal will tolerate it. Often the best available option is the garden hose. Never spray good healthy tissues with a chemical. Most wound sprays are designed to dry out the tissue that they hit. Many will delay healing because they cause a layer of tissue to die and need to be sloughed before true healing can take place.
Partial-thickness skin scrapes can be sprayed with disinfectant blue sprays, but any wound that is through skin into subcutaneous tissue or deeper should never get this treatment. Deeper structures like bone, joint spaces, ligaments and tendons should be checked for damage. To effectively do this, your veterinarian will often need to safely sedate the animal and provide pain relief locally at the wound and systemically for the whole patient.
Tissues that obviously have poor blood supply are trimmed away, and this process may go on for 2-3 weeks as the body identifies the bad tissues and they change color. This kind of wound is best reassessed periodically so the veterinarian can advise how to proceed.
Horses are prone to wounds, but they are also pretty good at healing wounds. If the patient is structurally sound, can stand on all 4 legs and walk normally, we have a pretty good chance of getting things to heal up if we can care for the wound properly. Many wounds cannot be closed with sutures. Bandages help control the wound progression and a good, quiet horse can usually be bandaged if you are willing to try. It takes patience and dedication to work with a wound, and more often than not your patience will be rewarded. Good first aid, timely veterinary attention and persistent wound care are all part of an equation that adds up to the best outcome.
Dr. Perry Spitzer is an owner and director of North Peace Veterinary Clinic Ltd. with his life and veterinary partner, Dr. Corinne Spitzer.