The Danger of Lower Limb Wounds of Horses

Lower limb wounds in horses can run from minor to major.

By Garrett Metcalf, DVM

It is common for horse owners to have a horse with a wound or laceration at some point in their life. Sometimes small lacerations can be perceived as benign, inconsequential problems that do not need immediate veterinary attention and are managed by the owners or trainers initially. Unfortunately, these simple-looking wounds can involve very important anatomical structures that can lead to serious infections that can be life-threatening or, at best career-limiting, for the horse.

Large wounds tend to get all the attention from owners or trainers because when they occur they are so obvious and visually appalling that medical attention is sought almost immediately. Those types of large wounds can be devastating, but they often involve the upper body regions of the horse, which heal better and often don’t involve structures such as joints or tendons.

Lower limb wounds of horses are almost a daily injury that most veterinary practices deal with in horses. These wounds should always be taken seriously, especially if the wound is over a joint, ligament, tendon or tendon sheath. The topographic anatomy is very important knowledge that veterinarians and seasoned horse owners know or should be familiar with to assess if there is danger of important anatomic structures involved by wounds. This skill allows the veterinarian or caretaker to understand what structures are at risk of being penetrated by the laceration based on the location of the wound. Keep in mind that these wounds can be deceiving at times from just what the wound looks like at the skin surface. The position that the leg is in or the direction that the object traveled at the time of injury can affect the trajectory that the wound penetrates deeper into underlying structures in the limb.

The first step in dealing with a lower limb wound is preventing further contamination of the wound. These wounds are often heavily contaminated because of the proximity of the wound to the ground, manure, dirt and shavings. Ideally, if possible before transportation to the veterinary hospital or while waiting for veterinary care to arrive, the wound should be cleansed with mild soapy water, iodine or chlorhexidine-based antiseptic solutions that are properly diluted. Removing dirt, manure and shavings from the wound and the area around the wound reduces the wound contamination and helps reduced the risk of becoming infected. The wound can then be protected by a clean or sterile bandage that provides adequate padding, absorption and pressure to stop bleeding. Keeping these materials available is important in any emergency situation that often occurs in horses.

Read more in the November issue of Oklahoma Farm & Ranch.