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Equine Wound Management Tips


Dr. Wright.

by Allison A. Rehnborg

Blood dripping down a pastern. An ugly gash over the eye. A nasty wire cut around a hock. If you own a horse, then you’ve probably encountered injuries like these. But what’s the first step in dealing with a wound? Are you doing any good by swiping ointment on a cut? How much blood loss is too much?

Dr. Nathaniel Wright answered these questions and more during his seminar, “Innovative Equine Wound Management Techniques,” at the Tennessee Equine Hospital on April 16.

According to Dr. Wright, who has been a practicing veterinarian since graduating from the University of Tennessee in 2006, cleaning an injury with water is an important first step. And no matter how tempted you might be, never apply ointment to a wound until your veterinarian can evaluate the injury. 

“People love to smear goo in wounds, but that’s just more dirt we have to clean later,” Dr. Wright said.

When faced with a bleeding injury, assess the nature of the blood loss. If the wound is spurting blood, the source is arterial. If it’s seeping blood, the source is venous. Either way, Dr. Wright advised applying firm pressure to the wound.  Always consider the depth and breadth of any wound, too. If a wound cuts through the full thickness of the skin, it may involve muscles, tendons, ligaments, or bones.

“It’s important to know your horse’s anatomy,” Dr. Wright said. “If you don’t, then you should get to know your veterinarian pretty well.”

If you are faced with a potentially serious wound, always call your veterinarian. Vets have the ability to thoroughly examine the horse and check for shock. The vet can also decide how to repair the injury. Suturing a fresh, clean wound covers sensitive tissues with skin, prevents contamination, and decreases potential scarring. Wounds that are too contaminated or swollen to suture right away call for delayed closure, including wet-to-dry bandaging.

“We use wet-to-dry bandaging when we have a deep, contaminated wound that’s difficult to debride by traditional methods,” Dr. Wright said. “We apply wet gauze to the dirty wound. After a day, the gauze dries, causing all the fluid, debris, and bacteria to adhere to the gauze, which can then be pulled away. You’d do it again and again until the wound is clean enough to close.”

Dr. Wright explained a new, innovative method for treating wounds that uses platelet-poor plasma. While the vets at the Tennessee Equine Hospital have only just begun to tap into the potential benefits of using platelet-poor plasma, the initial results seem promising.

“We use platelet-rich plasma for orthopedic injuries,” he said. “It’s a process where you harvest blood from the horse, process it in the lab, and remove platelet-rich plasma from the blood sample. Then we have a byproduct called platelet-poor plasma. Instead of throwing that away, we freeze it and use it in wounds to deliver growth factors and chemicals that call in other growth factors from the rest of the body.”

Knowing how to assess and treat a horse’s injury is important, but another essential part of wound management is prevention.

“It’s only $13 to prevent tetanus in a horse,” Dr. Wright said. “Don’t skimp on tetanus shots. Maintaining your fences and stalls would be really important, too. Another good tip is to duct-tape your bucket handles. Horses like to scratch their eyes on the sides of their buckets and can tear their eyelids on the ends of the bucket handles.”

The Tennessee Equine Hospital will be hosting two more lectures later this year. On July 16 at 6:30 p.m. Dr. Matt Povlovich will give a lecture on lameness. For reservations, call 615-591-1232.


Photos of a horse bucket with an untaped and then taped handle. Dr. Wright talked about wound prevention tips and he particularly mentioned how horses can tear their eyes on bucket hooks. These photos show how to tape bucket hooks to prevent eye injuries.

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