Managing open wounds

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Dealing with open wounds effectively helps prevent infection and ensures they heal correctly. Supergroom Alan Davies discusses how best to treat them.

It’s a well known fact that horses are accident prone and, as a result, wounds are extremely common. While many wounds are insignificant, some inconspicuous-looking wounds can have far more serious consequences.

There are six types of wounds:

  • Incised: a cut with clean, straight edges. It may bleed frequently, but generally heals quite quickly.

  • Laceration or tear: the edges are torn and irregular in shape and there are often skin flaps with a limited blood flow.

  • Abrasion: a superficial wound, such as a graze, which does not fully penetrate the skin.

  • Puncture: can be much more serious than it first appears, with a variable depth of soft tissue penetration, but a small skin opening. Foreign material can be carried deep inside and trapped in the wound.

  • Penetration: where an object penetrates a body cavity with risk to the internal organs.

  • De-gloving: where skin has been stripped from the limb or torso.

How to manage an open wound

1 - Wash the wound thoroughly with cold water. This also helps reduce any swelling. Use a diluted antiseptic solution or saline solution (cooled boiled water and salt) to clean the wound edges, but not deep wounds.

Gently spraying the area with a hose will irrigate the wound and wash away debris and foreign organisms.

2 - If possible, safely clip the hair around the wound (below) with blunt scissors or trimmers. This will help to assess the wound and keep it clean. Apply a sterile gel to keep hair and debris from contaminating the site.

3 - Place a non-stick dressing next to the wound and then a piece of cotton wool or Gamgee before applying Vetrap. If extra support is required, bandage over the Vetrap.

4 - The interval between dressing changes will depend on the wound. Oozing wounds need changing daily; drier wounds every other day.

5 - Monitor the wound until it heals fully. If the wound doesn’t seem to be healing or the horse appears to be getting more lame, call your vet immediately.

Don’t panic

It can be alarming to find a horse bleeding, but it’s vital not to panic – a horse can lose 10-15 litres of blood before there is a serious problem.

Significant blood loss only occurs when bleeding from a large vein or artery is left unchecked. Most small wounds will eventually stop bleeding without intervention.

Any bleeding must be stopped before the wound can be treated. Apply a pressure pad or bandage. If the blood soaks through, put extra padding over the top and apply more pressure. Keep the pad in place for at least five minutes.

An injury involving blood loss is the one occasion when a relatively tight bandage is recommended. Use enough pressure to reduce, but not stop, the blood supply. A tight dressing should be safe for up to two hours while awaiting professional help.

Get more advice from Alan Davies in the full article in issue 454.

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