|Dr. Sabrina Brounts|
Stay off the panic button and size up the situation if you find your horse cut and bleeding, said Dr. Sabrina Brounts, UW-Madison Veterinarian, during a recent seminar on equine first aid. The last thing an injured horse needs is panic that might make the injury worse or imperil you in your efforts to help.
Wounds fall into several categories: punctures, lacerations, incised wounds and abrasions and contusions. If you know what you’re looking at and can properly describe the wound to a veterinarian you’ll have a better chance to help your horse when you start taking action steps and treatments.
“Determining the nature of the wound will go a long way toward knowing what to do. Knowing what you see can help you make decisions about whether or not you should move or transport the injured horse, if immediate attention is needed or if it’s an injury that can perhaps wait,” Brounts said. The more you know the less likely you are to panic, too.
Puncture wounds often are hard to spot but can have debilitating effects. Nails are a common culprit in puncture wounds and can leave a small, round hole that’s hard to detect. And if you find a nail sticking in your horse, resist the impulse to pull it out.
How severe the puncture (nail) wound is depends on how deep it goes and where it is. An x-ray can determine if the nail is near anything vital or how much damage is done. And nails can bend in odd directions and what looks simple is often not so easy.
Lacerations are rough, jagged cuts to the skin. Unlike the laceration, an incised wound is a clean, even knife-like cut to the skin. Abrasions are non-penetrating scruffs usually at the surface of the skin and contusions are deep scruffs on the skin that may expose muscle or bone tissue.
“It can really help if you’re on the phone with your vet and can tell them if you’re looking at a laceration or a contusion,” Brounts said. “And what kind of wound the horse has affects what you can do right away.”
Also important to the assessment is where the wound is on the horse. Wounds close to joints, bones, and tendons are potentially more serious than wounds confined to soft tissue areas. Bleeding or discharges from the wound also are clues. If the wound is bleeding, make an estimate about how much it’s bleeding. Severe blood loss may require a tourniquet or other measure.
One step you can probably take is to clean the wound. If at all possible, Brounts said, cover the wound and clip away all the surrounding hair. Hair in the wound introduces more bacteria and makes it harder to treat and care for as you go. Avoid razors in favor of clippers when trimming hair.
“The next thing is to clean the wound and remove as much dirt and debris as possible. You can irrigate the cut with warm tap water and a spray bottle or a large syringe. Don’t use a hose with pressure because that can cause more damage. If you use a sponge, use the softest most non abrasive sponge available,” Brounts said.
In certain cases, you may need to explore in the wound with your fingers to find any remaining debris or objects. Brounts said to always use medical gloves and move gently with your hands.
Disinfectants are tricky. Clean tap water is usually your best cleaning solution but keeping saline solution on hand is a good practice. Iodine in diluted solution of 0.1 percent so it looks like weak tea is suitable in some situations and after thoroughly cleaning the wound.
A two percent solution of Chlorhexidine diacetate also works as a good disinfectant after cleaning a wound. The chlorexidine does have a slight residual effect meaning it’ll continue to fight bacterial for a short time after being applied.
“Avoid using hydrogen peroxide, bleach or vinegar. Those substances can actually damage the tissue,” she said.
What happens once you have a wound cleaned up depends on consultations with your vet. Dressings, stitches, trimming are all possible pieces of the treatment process. Stitches are often used to close incised wounds, for example, but stitches may not be used in a complicated laceration.
“Just remember to try to stay calm,” Brounts added.