Caring for the Injured Horse Part I
By Chris Bates, Osteopath (DO), Animal Therapist and LCAO Contributing Author
Caring for horses is a fun and rewarding experience. However, as with any living creature, accidents and injuries can happen. It’s common to hear about horses coming in from grazing with cuts, lumps and bumps and feeling worse for wear after charging around a little too enthusiastically.
Even the stable can carry risks if the horse slips or knocks themselves on something. It’s very important to have an understanding of what to do to treat minor injuries and when to call the Vet.
Common Horse Injuries
If horses are turned out to graze in company then there can be “disagreements” between them from time to time even if they normally get on well. Bites and kicks from other horses can range from very minor to serious injuries.
Horses have very well-developed body language and most of the time, posturing is enough to establish understanding, but if this doesn’t do the trick then feet can fly. Horses will sometimes break the skin whether they are shod or barefoot.
Small lacerations from kicks can often be treated with good cleaning and antiseptic topical treatments but there are things to look out for. If the wound is bleeding heavily then veterinary attention is needed as there may be damage to blood vessels and stitches may be required.
Wounds located over joints are also cause for concern; if the wound becomes infected then the proximity to a joint can lead to the joint capsule becoming septic and resulting in serious damage to the articulation.
When the wound is over a joint, look for swelling, heat, lameness, you may also see a straw-colored liquid coming from the wound which might be synovial fluid (the fluid contained within the joint capsule).
If the joint is hot and swollen and the horse is showing signs of lameness then consult the vet as a priority; depending on the details you give them, they may suggest running cold water over the area to remove debris from the wound and reduce pain and inflammation.
Puncture wounds from a nail or small objects can be hard to spot due to their size and yet can be very dangerous. Often a puncture wound will close again after the foreign object is removed or falls out, however this can trap bacteria in the wound and lead to infection.
If the wound is small or has closed, the first signs are often seen at the stage of infection. These would be heat, swelling, redness, pain and possible lameness. Again, consult the vet, they may leave you with advice on poulticing the site which can draw out infectious materials and assist in wound healing.
What You Should Have In Your Horse First Aid Kit
It’s a good idea to have some basic first aid supplies for injuries like these. Here are some first aid items that are useful:
- Clean cotton wool – Great for cleaning small wounds with clean warm water.
- Antiseptic ointment or cream – Always ensure these are within date and sealed well after use.
- Poultice – Many are available from tack stores and from your vet and can often be use wet or dry depending on the vet’s advice.
- Vet Wrap / self-adhesive bandage – Used to keep dressings in place and clean.
- Scissors – Bandage scissors are designed to remove dressings without risking further injuries.
- Heavy duty tape – This is often used to cover hoof poultices and keep them clean.
- Salt – Salt can be mixed with water to use in wound care and even as a dental rinse following injuries or dental treatments.
- Thermometer – It can be very useful in some conditions to assess the horse’s vital signs over a period of time or to take their temperature if you suspect infection. Normal range is 37.2°C to 38.5°C (99.0°F to 101.4°F)
- Diapers - These are great as a base layer over a wound and under the other bandaging. You can apply creams to the diaper before putting it on if the horse is particularly sore. They are also absorbent, so soak up any fluid that may be coming from the wound and are also less likely to stick. They also provide some padding which helps protect a sensitive area. Just make sure to cut the elastic edges to avoid creating any unwanted pressure points.
This is not a complete list but a good tack store can also provide advice on additional items and their uses. Vets should always be able to give you advice on the most suitable products for your animal’s condition.
Recognizing lameness is a science in itself. It is not uncommon to have other horse owners offer their opinions.
Unfortunately, walking or trotting up a lame horse a number of times until a non-professional has spotted something is often doing more harm than good. If you think that your horse is uncomfortable or moving differently then it is best to ask your Vet for advice.
The obvious signs of lameness are:
- Avoidance of weight bearing (standing or moving)
- Unequal strides
- Stride deviation – not tracking in a straight line
- Nodding of the head to shift weight off of affected limb
Hopefully, you’ve found this helpful. I’ll be back in the coming weeks with part II.
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