Skin Wounds


What to do if you find your horse with a wound

Wounds can be partial where the lesion e.g. graze does not go through the full skin thickness, or full, which extends through the full skin thickness, or puncture where the skin is penetrated but only shows as a small surface wound which can conceal the extent of damage to deeper structures.

Try to reassure and calm the horse, get some help whilst you examine the wound. Do not attempt to do too much without help as the animal may be in pain and become fractious. And behave unpredictably. Try to evaluate the wound, and call the vet if you need initial advice.

Areas for concern:

  • Excessive bleeding
  • Penetration or puncture through the entire skin thickness
  • Wound around a tendon or joint
  • Infected or contaminated
  • If not covered for tetanus

First aid

  • Wash the area with clean warm water and a dilute solution of antiseptic e.g. 1:20 Hibiscrub or pevidine, then dab dry.
  • Cover the area with a sterile non stick dressing e.g. rondopad / melolin.
  • Apply a bandage with firm even pressure not too tight to stop the circulation.

Healing process

After the skin is damaged the body’s healing systems kick in. White blood cells appear at the site to gobble up bacteria and remove dead body cells and other debris. Fibrinogen is secreted in the vicinity to form a temporary protective scab over the wound. Note that healing will only occur on a clean bed of tissue free from infection. Skin cells from the edges of the wound migrate underneath the scab to fill in the wound. This process may take several weeks, but is shorter if the wound is dressed. Underlying granulation tissue is laid down, which forms a fibrous scaffold for fresh skin cells to grow over.

The veterinary surgeon will make a thorough assessment of the wound. It may be necessary to sedate a fractious horse to do this properly. It is important to rule out underlying injury to deeper tissues: tendon sheaths joints, blood vessels and nerves as infection of some of these tissues can have serious consequences.

The choices of how to manage the wound are

  1. Closure. The wound is cleaned and then sutured or stapled straight away. This is only possible if the wound is fresh, less than a few hours old. After this time window the wound has become too contaminated by multiplying bacteria and any sutures will subsequently not hold and break down.
  2. Delayed primary closure. The wound is quite recent but there is some contamination. In this case the wound would be cleaned thoroughly and bandaged for a few days. This controls the infection in the wound and reduces localised swelling. It may then be feasible to suture the wound with less chance of a breakdown.
  3. Second Intention Healing. If there is too much contamination and no chance of suturing it, or if there is insufficient skin to cover the defect, the wound is left to heal on its own, with or without dressings. The horse may need to be given antibiotic treatment and protection against tetanus. Covered wounds will tend to remain moist and heal more quickly, whereas in an open situation the cells may dry out prematurely and die off.

An associated problem with this approach is excessive granulation tissue or “proud flesh”. Here the granulating tissue in the centre of the wound grows exuberantly, and is not controlled by skin epithelial cells from the edges. This will appear as a hard irregular pink cauliflower-like structure which bleeds readily.  

Emergency first aid kit

  • Sterile non-adherent wound dressings
  • Animalintex poultice
  • Cotton wool
  • Gamgee roll
  • Antiseptic solution – pevidine or Hibiscrub
  • A conforming netted bandage to keep the pad in place over the wound
  • A vetwrap type of non-adhesive cling bandage to apply even pressure – this sticks to itself but not to the skin
  • Elastoplast bandage to stop the dressing from slipping
  • Pair of scissors

Bear in mind that we are available on the telephone and happy to give advice to ascertain whether your horse needs veterinary attention.


This information is provided for information purposes to our registered clients. It is the individual opinion of veterinary surgeons within the practice. It should not be relied upon as an alternative to a clinical examination and diagnosis by a veterinary surgeon. If in any doubt please contact the practice for further advice.

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