For the love of you pet: Examine wounds on horses to ascertain severity

By Shana Bohac
Dec. 12, 2013 at 6:12 a.m.

It never fails; you pull up to your barn at dark, and you notice that your horse has a huge, bloody cut on its leg. What steps do you take from here?

The first step is to not panic and to thoroughly check the wound. This helps determine whether the cut requires immediate veterinary attention. A few factors come into play, such as location, depth, severity of bleeding, size and age of wound.

The location of the wound is one of the most important factors to consider when determining the severity of a laceration. Wounds on the lower legs run the highest risk because there is not much tissue, critical veins or arteries and important underlying structures.

A wound over the joint or tendon sheath needs immediate attention to ensure that there is no penetration to these vital structures.

Infection of a joint or tendon sheath can be career ending for an athlete. Wounds over well-muscled areas are less complicated because of the extensive blood supply in these areas and lack of critical structures. Cuts in these locations tend to heal very well, unlike those on limbs.

The depth of a wound will tell you whether or not sutures are needed. You can apply cool tap water to the area to help visualize the depth of the wound.

If the wound edges can easily be pulled apart and underlying muscle or tissue observed, then the abrasion is likely full thickness and would heal better with sutures. If the edges of the laceration cannot be pulled apart, then it is likely the wound did not penetrate the entire thickness of the skin. These wounds will likely heal OK on their own.

Excessive bleeding can be very concerning; however, many people think that steady drops of blood is life-threatening, when, in fact, as long as you can count the drops of blood, your horse will likely stop bleeding on his own.

If the blood is bright red and spurting, then a large vessel or artery is most likely damaged. Pressure should be applied immediately after the wound is cleaned and a veterinarian called.

The size of the wound is also an important factor. Cuts less than one-half inch in length typically do not need sutures. Larger wounds tend to heal better if sutured up, even if the sutures do not stay due to it being a high motion area.

The overlying skin will provide a bandage and allow the underlying tissue to granulate in nicely.

Fresh wounds that need attention heal better than old wounds that need to be sutured up. The best way to determine the age of the wound is to look at the color of the drainage.

Yellow, brown or thick fluid indicates an older cut. These wounds may still need to be sutured up depending on size, location and depth of the wound.

If you have any questions regarding lacerations or wound care, please feel free to contact me at

Dr. Shana Bohac has a veterinary practice at Hillcrest Animal Hospital in Victoria. She works on both small animals and equine patients. Submit questions to



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