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How to clean and bandage a wound on your horse

All wounds must be cleaned properly and they often heal best in a moist environment. Here, Agria Vårdguide's experienced horse veterinarian Johanna Habbe shows you how to protect the wound, and retain moisture, with the help of a bandage.
How to clean and bandage a wound on your horse

How to clean a wound

  • Flush the wound clean with water or saline solution. If you have access to large amounts of saline, that it preferable. Otherwise you can flush the wound with tap water. You need a few litres. 
  • If possible, trim the fur around your horse's wound. Be careful not to get fur strands into the wound, and flush it through after clipping.
  • Keep the moisture in with a bandage. Wounds usually heal best in a moist environment.
  • Nowadays there is an arsenal of very good compresses for all phases of wound healing. On a fresh wound, a gauze pad with a smooth surface or an antibacterial pad can be used.

There are several things that are important to assess in the event of a wound on a horse. If there is a lot of bleeding that doesn't stop, try applying a pressure bandage (you can use gauze rolls or similar, but take what is available and cleanest) and contact the vet immediately.

If the wound is near a joint, the vet should always be contacted. If your horse is also really lame, it is almost always a case for a larger horse clinic or an animal hospital.

How to bandage a wound - step by step

  • Start by fixing the compress to the wound with a padding bandage (i.e. a thin cotton bandage). Then put a layer of cotton around the leg. Be sure to smooth the cotton evenly, so you don't get lumps that cause pressure.
  • Fix the cotton with a gauze wrap. Wrap the gauze with even pressure and fix the end of the wrap with tissue tape/wound tape. Make sure the gauze doesn't lie against the skin, there must always be a protective layer of cotton between it and the horse. Stop wrapping about five centimetres from the edge of the cotton.
  • If the bandage needs to be longer than the cotton is wide, put an overlap between the cotton layers of about five centimetres so that there is no gap in the cotton.
  • Some structures on the horse's legs (such as the heel tendon and the ankle bone) need extra padding, otherwise pressure sores will occur. Then put extra cotton around and on the structure.
  • Repeat with new layers of cotton and gauze wrap until you have a stable bandage. Finish the bandage by securing the end of the gauze wrap either with a piece of tape or by tying it.
  • Then add a layer of adhesive at the outermost end. You can also seal the lower part of the bandage against the hoof with the help of a wider woven tape.
  • In order for a bandage not to slide down (the horse's legs are conical) and for it to continue to cover the wound, a bandage needs to run from the bottom edge of the hoof up to 10-20 centimetres above the wound.
  • A good bandage that doesn't get wet or dirty can often stay on for three days. But if you are unsure of how the wound is healing, or of the durability/cleanliness of the bandage, it should be changed more often.
  • Bandaging is an art, practice makes perfect.

When does a wound need stitches?

Wounds heal best and fastest if the edges are in contact with each other. If a wound is large or gaping, it usually needs to be sutured, and as the faster it is done, the better.

Very large wound cavities may need to be flushed out and drained, which needs to be done by a vet. Always contact the vet for an assessment of how larger wounds should be treated.

Also remember to check that your horse is tetanus vaccinated, as horses are sensitive to tetanus.

Approved by Johanna Habbe, Veterinary Advisor.

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