Emergency Wound Care: How to Stop Bleeding
Every horse owner should know what to do if an injury occurs. In an emergency, such knowledge could even save your horse’s life.
No matter how the injury occurred, whenever a wound is bleeding, your first concern is to limit blood loss. You may have already called the veterinarian, but until help arrives, you need to take action.
Because of the horse’s sheer size and power, handling him when he’s under stress or in pain can be daunting. Focus on remaining calm and thinking clearly so you can soothe the horse and keep him as quiet as possible. The more excited he is, the harder his heart will pump and the faster the wound will bleed.
If an artery is cut, blood will spurt with each heartbeat. If a large vein is cut, the wound will ooze continuously.
The rate at which blood is lost can actually be more important than how much blood is lost. A horse can literally lose gallons of blood at a slow trickle and survive, while faster bleeding can be life threatening, even if just one-tenth of his total blood volume is lost.
To staunch bleeding, use non-stick gauze squares if available, but in an emergency, you may have to use a T-shirt or other absorbent material. Maxi pads are great to keep in your first aid kit just for this purpose. They’re highly absorbent and easy to use.
Using firm, direct pressure, hold the absorbent material—gauze squares, clean towel, maxi pad or bandage—over the wound for a minimum of five minutes. Even if the gauze squares/towel/maxi pad/bandage becomes soaked with blood, resist the temptation to lift it from the wound. Add another layer on top and keep pressing on the wound. Once you staunch the blood flow, apply a pressure bandage (if the location of the wound allows), until the veterinarian arrives.
If you think your horse may have lost a significant amount of blood, it’s crucial to get a veterinarian on the scene as quickly as possible. Monitor the horse for signs of shock, which include:
- Dramatically pale gums
- Acting weak, wobbly or "spacey"
- Rapid heart rate
- Weak pulse
- Capillary refill time (CRT) is increased (greater than 3 seconds)
- Ears and lower legs feel ice cold
Whether your horse is at home, in the trailer, on a trail ride or at a competition, there’s never a “good” time for an injury. But because accidents can and do happen, you should know ahead of time what to do when your horse gets hurt. Many times, you won’t see exactly what happened and the wound can be hours old before it’s discovered. You arrive at the barn in the morning only to find your horse was injured sometime during the night. Or you show up to feed in the evening and see that your horse was hurt in the hours since you last saw him...