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First Aid for Horses
USAgNet - 08/09/2018

Would you know what to do if your horse accidentally encountered a sharp edge and ended up with a cut? Dr. Annette McCoy, an equine surgeon at the University of Illinois Veterinary Teaching Hospital in Urbana, offers information that will help you be prepared so you can stay calm and act quickly when dealing with wounds in horses.

"Before you approach the horse, evaluate your surroundings, especially if the horse is in obvious distress. Is the area safe for you to be in?" says Dr. McCoy. A downed power line, for example, is extremely dangerous. In such situations, contact the appropriate emergency authorities immediately instead of intervening yourself.

"After you have determined that the area is safe, try to get some type of restraint on the horse if he or she is loose. This is most easily done with a halter and lead rope," explains Dr. McCoy. She advises having a two-person first aid team whenever possible: one person to monitor the horse and another to tend to the wound.

Adequate lighting is helpful, so keeping a flashlight in the barn is a good idea. Check the area for signs of blood, especially if you didn't witness the accident. The wound may have stopped bleeding, but if you spot blood on bedding or elsewhere you can determine whether significant blood loss had already taken place.

"If there isn't evidence of severe blood loss or current active bleeding, do a general exam of the animal. Run hands over the legs and take note of things like labored breathing or an especially rapid heart rate," recommends Dr. McCoy. "Anything more than a minor abrasion merits a call to your veterinarian for further assistance."

If your horse is actively bleeding, you may need to apply first aid while someone contacts the veterinarian. Wounds located near the joints and legs, neck or head wounds, and penetrating wounds should always be evaluated by a veterinarian.

"First aid steps for horses are fairly similar to those for a person. Put a compress on the wound and put a bandage around it. Applying pressure helps reduce blood loss," says Dr. McCoy.

Dr. McCoy recommends preparing a simple first aid kit for your barn. The kit should include something clean and absorbent (diapers or sanitary napkins work well) along with supplies to aid in compression of a wound, such as ace bandages or vet wrap.

It's also a good idea to be prepared with a simple splint if you need to immobilize a joint. Dr. McCoy recommends a PVC pipe cut long ways. "These are cheap and easy to cut down to the appropriate size in a pinch," she notes.

Most horse owners have quilts and polo wraps that can be used for temporary bandages. If you have a freezer in your barn, Dr. McCoy recommends keeping a bag of frozen peas or something similar to use as a cold compress.

Lastly, if the wound is a simple scrape that you can handle on your own, a mild dish soap or betadine can be diluted in warm water to clean the wound. Dr. McCoy cautions against using hydrogen peroxide for this purpose.

"If you would like to use an ointment, SSD [silver sulfadiazine] cream or triple antibiotic are good choices," says Dr. McCoy. "Be careful with wound sprays because some delay healing. If you are ever unsure of what to use, a quick call to your veterinarian can help you decide!"

Veterinary attention may be warranted to evaluate the wound and the overall health of your horse and to perform additional procedures to stop bleeding and promote healing. For example, your veterinarian will clip and clean the wound to better examine it and may ligate specific blood vessels or stitch the wound together to address bleeding. Your veterinarian will give you specific instructions for bandage maintenance.

If the horse is badly injured or the injury requires ongoing care beyond the scope of one person, your veterinarian may advise going to an equine hospital. Acting on such advice promptly leads to the best prognosis and healing for your horse.

A concern unique to horse wounds is a condition known as "proud flesh." Proud flesh is essentially an excessive growth of granulation tissue, the tissue formed to heal wounds. The problem occurs most often on legs and resembles puffy red cauliflower at the edges of a wound. If this is occurring on your animal, the veterinarian should be immediately notified. Proud flesh will not heal on its own.

Whether your horse experiences proud flesh or has a normally healing wound, Dr. McCoy advises using only products your horse's veterinarian has authorized.

"Be careful with internet-marketed supplements and healing aids," she warns. "Many of these do not have a scientific basis and may do nothing or, in some cases, may even harm your horse."

If you have any questions about lacerations and wound emergencies, contact your local veterinarian.

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