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Figure 2: Sometimes it is obvious when

a wound requires intensive treatment.

The swelling of this wound prior to

treatment meant that the treatment

period was considerably lengthened

Figure 1: Wounds overlying joints

should be examined by a vet;

fortunately for this horse the knee

joints were not affected and he made

a full recovery

How can we help wounds to heal?

1. Cleaning the wound and

removal of damaged tissue

All traumatic wounds are contaminated with

foreign material, such as dirt and bacteria,

from the hair coat, environment and in some

cases the item that caused the wound.

Thorough cleaning removes the debris, pus

and discharge therefore reducing the risk of

infection and promoting wound healing. It is

essential that any product used during this

process does not inhibit wound healing.

Whilst cleaning a wound it is essential to

wear gloves to prevent bacteria transferring

into it from your hands.

Whilst water is satisfactory for removing the

gross contamination it should not be used

beyond this point as it can damage cells

and cause swelling of the tissues; ideally a

large volume of warm saline (2tbsp salt in

1 litre of water) should be used. Antiseptic

solutions e.g. chlorhexidine (Hibiscrub



can be added to provide additional action

against bacteria.

Removal of dead or dying tissues is essential

for efficient wound repair. The presence of

unhealthy tissue means that the healing

response is focused on removing this as

opposed to healing and it increases the risk

of infection.

2. Anti-inflammatory medication

Anti-inflammatory medications, e.g.

phenylbutazone not only provide essential

pain relief for the injured horse but also help

to reduce inflammation and swelling.

3. Antibiotics

Once the protective barrier of the skin has

been damaged the tissues beneath are

considered to be contaminated and there

is a risk of infection establishing. Whilst

antibiotics are important to help control

established infections they are often not

required for wounds that are treated quickly.

Your vet will decide whether antibiotics

are required.

4. Suturing wounds

Wounds that are most suitable for suturing

(stitching) are those with clean, healthy edges

and are free from infection

(Figure 3)

. As a

general rule, a vet should see a wound within

6 hours to determine whether suturing is

possible, however this can vary with the

type and location of a wound

(Figure 4)


5. Bandaging

Bandages consist of several layers each of

which help to provide a regulated, moist

environment ideal for wound healing.

Bandaging a wound also prevents further

contamination, protects from additional

trauma, helps to reduce or prevent swelling

and when necessary immobilise the wound.

The wound product and dressing pad

selected should depend upon the type of

wound and the stage of healing. In many

cases a hydrogel and a non-adhesive,

absorbent dressing pad are ideal and these

should be kept in any first aid kit. Other

products available include medical grade

manuka honey, silver-impregnated dressings

and ketanserin however it should be stressed

that prior to using any product it is best to

seek advice from a vet.

Layers of cotton wool or gamgee held in

place by conforming bandage help to

ensure the bandage applies an even pressure

and absorbs blood and discharge. The

thickness of the absorbent layer can vary

significantly and is quite considerable when

immobilisation of a limb is required. The

final layer, a cohesive or elastic adhesive

bandage, helps to support the overall

structure of the bandage and makes it


Figure 3: Wounds suitable for

suturing have clean, healthy

edges and are free from


Figure 4: The wound in

Figure 3 after suturing


Whilst the majority of wounds that horses

suffer heal in a straightforward manner

this is not always the case. Having a

well-stocked first aid kit can help to reduce

the stress when needing to perform first

aid. If you are ever uncertain whether your

horse needs to be examined by a vet

calling for advice is essential; sending a

photograph can be very helpful at this

time. There are many factors that can slow

the rate of wound healing which can be

addressed through a combination of

wound management techniques.