Veterinarians at Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital answer your questions about sales and healthcare of Thoroughbred auction yearlings, weanlings, 2-year-olds and breeding stock. Email us at [email protected] if you have a question for a veterinarian.
Question: How do you know when to call a veterinarian for a laceration versus treating/patching it up yourself?
Dr. Daniel Devis, Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital: Cuts, punctures, flesh wounds, slashes, etc. they have many nicknames, but in veterinary medicine, we know them as “lacerations.”
And what exactly is a laceration? Well, the dictionary defines it as a tear or cut of the skin, unlike an abrasion that does not penetrate the surface of the skin. A laceration usually involves a sharp object that can penetrate deeply into the soft tissue, even into the bone, but it can also be caused by blunt trauma (i.e., running through a fence).
Lacerations are a very common type of injury that can happen at any time or place – mostly when you least expect it, during a busy time of the year, or just when you thought the horses were safe and sound in their stalls. All it needs is a nail to be out of place, a fallen fence, or even a bite from another animal to cause an emergency call to your veterinarian.
Lacerations come in all sizes and shapes, from very bloody and unpleasant looking to simple insignificant scratches. But how do you know when to call a veterinarian for a laceration repair? Well, first of all, having good communication with your personal veterinarian is key. Regardless of the situation, if in doubt, always ask.
Blood can be very dramatic to the inexperienced eye but it can be a good indicator as to how urgent the situation is. If you find your horse with a bloodstain on it but you cannot pinpoint the origin and it is no longer actively bleeding, then you can probably take a breath. If there is a continual drip of blood or even a stream, then you must take immediate action. (We call this triage.) Having a plan in these situations is crucial. Again, if in doubt, always call your veterinarian.
Having a first aid kit that includes (at least) rubbing alcohol, chlohrexidine soap or similar, clean gauze, and plenty of bandage material is extremely important. Talk to your veterinarian and together build a kit that could be used in case of emergency. Most veterinarians will encourage you to try to stop the bleeding with some sort of gauze or a clean towel. The horse will probably be in distress, so caution is advised.
Photographs can go a long way when consulting with your veterinarian initially. Make sure to take photos from different angles so your veterinarian can advise you further. Usually, having your own hand or a common object in the picture next to the wound is helpful for your veterinarian to determine the dimension and gravity of the laceration.
Cleaning the wound, or at least keeping it from getting more contaminated, is very important. Communicate with your veterinarian, he or she should be able to guide you until help comes.
We do not recommend you attempt to try and suture a laceration on your own! There is a reason why we go to veterinary school for so long, so please call us. The risk of infection is high when dealing with any type of skin wound. Complications can affect future soundness and quality of life for your horse.
Complicated lacerations include but are not limited to: wounds affecting the abdomen and or thorax (especially if any important organs are exposed), injuries that involve a joint compartment, lacerations that involve the eye or close to it, any tendon or ligament exposure as well as any tendon sheath or bursa penetrations, even if there is no lameness noted at the time.
If you find your horse with a laceration, please catch the animal and examine the situation, if there is active bleeding, then call your veterinarian, take pictures from different angles and try to keep it clean, bandage the area if possible until help comes.
Unfortunately there is no “one size fits all” on this subject, which is why having a plan of action and a first aid kit at your barn could de-escalate the situation.
Dr. Daniel Devis was born and raised in Bogota, Colombia. He acquired an interest in horses at a young age at his parents’ farm, where his dad taught him everything about the traditional Colombian cowboy style riding, herding cattle and roping.
He attended San Martin University in Bogotá, and received his veterinary medicine and animal husbandry degree in 2012. Daniel completed a year-and-a-half rotating internship in surgery and anesthesia, followed by a two-year fellowship in equine lameness and diagnostic imaging, both at Lexington Equine Surgery & Sports Medicine. Devis obtained his American veterinary license in 2017. His areas of interest are show horses, pre-purchase exams, and basic ambulatory work.