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Learn Proper Wound Care for Best Results

By Cynthia McFarland

Every horse owner should learn how to deal with basic emergency wound care before the veterinarian arrives. Being prepared and knowing what to do can end up being a lifesaver.

Prompt and appropriate care of wounds is also important because it can help avoid infection and reduce scarring.

Types of Wounds

 A scrape (abrasion) can be minor to serious, depending on how deep it is and how much skin/tissue is involved.

Puncture wounds can be serious, depending on depth and location on the horse’s body. Bacteria may be introduced and tetanus can also be a concern.

A cut (laceration) can be superficial and involve only the skin and layer of fat beneath, or it may be large and/or deep and involve nerves, tendons, ligaments and/or joints.

So, how do you know when to treat a wound yourself and when to call in the veterinarian?

Wound care

Minor injuries can often be treated without a veterinarian’s help, but if a wound is serious or there’s any chance of infection—for example, when debris is imbedded in a wound or when there’s the chance bacteria can enter a joint—it’s best to have a veterinarian examine the horse promptly. Wound location will also determine whether or not a vet needs to be involved. Call your veterinarian immediately whenever:

  • The injury is near or over a joint
  • You can see exposed bone, tendon or ligament
  • There is foreign material or dirt embedded in the wound
  • There is heat and/or swelling in the area
  • It is a penetrating wound, such as a deep puncture 
How quickly you discover a wound and how well you clean it can affect the healing process. The best scenario is to treat the wound immediately after the horse is injured, although this isn’t always possible. Often, the injury is hours old when discovered, and it may be caked with dried blood and debris. It's important to clean any wound as soon as possible, as it typically takes between three to six hours for bacteria to move deeper into the tissue and start an infection.

When a wound is clean and you can start treating it within a few hours of occurrence, the skin won’t have contracted and this gives the horse the best opportunity for healing with the least amount of scarring.

Clean It Up

“A cornerstone of wound therapy is to clean the wound well,” says Blair. “You can use a povidone-idodine scrub diluted with water, but if you have nothing more than regular soap, just clean it well.”

You can wash the wound with water from a hose (use a steady, heavy trickle of water, not forceful spray), or use a large-dose syringe (without a needle) to irrigate the wound with sterile saline solution or a dilute povidone-iodine solution. Clean, running tap water may be more helpful in getting debris out of a wound than just irrigating it with a saline solution.



Once the wound is completely clean, press it dry with a clean towel. Don’t rub! If there are flaps of skin hanging from the wound, gently press them into proper position. The veterinarian can decide if they need to be trimmed later. Cover the wound with a single layer of gauze pads, which have been coated with an antibacterial ointment labeled for use in horses. Hold the gauze pads in place with a bandage or tape. Applying antibacterial ointment helps keep the edges of the wound from drying up and will give the veterinarian better conditions to work with if the wound requires sutures or staples.

The goal is to keep the wound clean, prevent infection and maintain good circulation. Sutures may or may not be necessary, depending on the location and nature of the wound.

Blair notes that the veterinarian will typically put the horse on a course of antibiotics in the event of a puncture wound, a major wound on any part of the body, or with any wound involving subcutaneous tissue that requires staples or sutures. In addition to avoiding infection, antibiotics may also keep the wound from draining as much as it would without medication. Your veterinarian will know the best antibiotic to use for the situation, as well as the appropriate dose and duration for which it should be given.


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