Managing Horse Wounds?

When a horse owner is faced with an unexpected soft-tissue injury, a flurry of questions immediately springs to mind. When do I call the vet? Does the wound really need stitches? What about an antibiotic?

Here are some helpful facts to help your horse on his road to recovery:

  • Any time your horse is injured, call a veterinarian. Stifle that urge to run to your medicine cabinet and haul out the industrial-sized vat of medicine and slather the wound. This is especially true if the wound is close to a joint, tendon, ligament, or other important structure. A veterinarian can also administer a tetanus vaccination, if necessary.
  • Assume that all equine wounds are contaminated with bacteria and have the potential to become infected. Not all wounds will become infected, but if an infection develops then wound healing is delayed, prolonging recovery time and increasing treatment-related costs.
  • Cultures and in some cases tissue biopsies* can help identify the type and number of bacteria in the wound, as well as the presence of biofilms. This information will subsequently determine whether an antibiotic should be administered and what antibiotic is most appropriate.
  • Not all wounds should be sutured. Many wounds need to heal by “second intention,” which simply means without stitching. Wounds contaminated by high levels of debris and bacteria have a higher chance of infection if they are sutured.
  • Proud flesh, or excessive granulation tissue, is always a potential side effect of wound repair in horses. Which wound or horses will fall prey to this condition can’t be predicted, and treatment costs and recovery times both escalate when proud flesh develops.

*Van Hecke, L.L., K. Hermans, M. Haspeslagh, et al. 2017. A quantitative swab is a good non-invasive alternative to a quantitative biopsy for quantifying bacterial load in wounds healing by second intention in horses. Veterinary Journal. 225:63-68.