What are Abrasions?
Though minor grazes can be easily treated, anytime the skin is broken, there is a risk of infection. If left untreated, an abrasion can be susceptible to a bacterial or fungal infection, or even leg mites. This can, in turn, lead to spreading infections, such as mud fever or rain scald. The location of the abrasion is important as well. An eye abrasion can lead to corneal ulcers or other eye issues, while a wound near a joint or below the knee raises the risk of contamination and further damage, such as septic arthritis or lameness. It is important to seek veterinary assistance as soon as possible in such cases, as it can save your horse’s life.
An abrasion is an injury to the superficial layers of skin, where the outer skin and some hair has been scraped off due to friction with a foreign object. This type of injury is usually not deep, and is fairly harmless. With quick action, it can be successfully treated.
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Symptoms of Abrasions in Horses
While sometimes the graze is too small to be detected immediately, the symptoms will progress in severity. They include:
- Skin wound
- Hair loss at wound site
- Clear or yellowish discharge from wound
- Swelling at wound site
- Redness at wound site
- Proud flesh, or flesh that has a pink, cobblestone appearance and is raised above the skin
Causes of Abrasions in Horses
The main cause of an abrasion in a horse is friction with a foreign object. Often, wet conditions soften the skin, making it more vulnerable to injury. Things in a horse’s environment that can cause an abrasion include:
- Certain soils, such as sand
- Rough vegetation
- Excessive leg washing
- Rough bedding, such as straw
- Chemical irritants
- Badly placed boots
- Badly placed bandages
- Rope burn
- Barbed wire
- Saddle and tack
Diagnosis of Abrasions in Horses
Once called to the scene, a veterinarian will examine your horse, noting the deepness of the abrasion, any signs of infection or other related symptoms, the location of the wound, and what is in your horse’s environment that could have caused the injury. Your veterinarian may also inquire about the other horses in the population, and if there is a history of mites or other infectious conditions.
Tests to rule out infections or mites can include an acetate tape impression, hair samples, samples of scabs, and skin cultures. If the abrasion is near a joint, it may be cleaned thoroughly and then distended with saline to allow further inspection. Once your veterinarian has identified the wound as a minor abrasion, an infected wound, or a deeper laceration, he can prescribe the correct treatment. While most abrasions occur on the limbs, the occasional eye or mouth abrasion may require further specialized exams and testing.
Treatment of Abrasions in Horses
Often, the treatment of a minor abrasion can be done at home. To know if a call to the veterinarian is needed, it is good to know how an abrasion is treated by the body.
Once the body has an injury, white blood cells invade the wound site to fight infection and clean out the damaged cells. This creates a clear or yellowish discharge, and inflammation. This moisture is needed, and should not be dried up immediately. Granulated tissue forms, and if it becomes excessive, it rises above the skin level and is called proud flesh. This can hinder the natural healing process and will need veterinary care.
When your horse acquires an abrasion, take him to a safe place and assess the damage. Clean the wound, clipping any hair that lies over the wound, or around it as needed. Wash the wound with water, a saline solution, or an approved antiseptic soap. Be sure to get out any dirt and debris, using an antimicrobial wash if exceptionally dirty. You may apply a topical antibacterial ointment once the wound is clean. Bandaging the wound is generally not necessary, but you may wish to bandage a leg wound to prevent further contamination. If the wound continues to bleed, a compression bandage may be applied. Discontinue bandage use once granulated flesh covers the wound. You may also wish to use fly spray around the wound to discourage insects, or aluminum spray on the wound itself. Cleanse the wound daily with a sterile solution and change any bandages. You can reapply antibiotic ointment for the first 3 to 5 days, but discontinue use after that time to allow natural healing to occur.
If your horse exhibits pain or lameness, or if the wound exhibits swelling, heat, pus, or excessive proud flesh, or if the abrasion is near a joint, on a leg, or pulls apart when the horse moves, call your veterinarian immediately to prevent further injury. Based on your veterinarian’s diagnosis of the severity of the wound and possible infection, your horse may be prescribed antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, or pain medications. Your veterinarian may also suggest a tissue debridement in the case of proud flesh, or a suture if the wound is deep enough.
If your horse incurs an abrasion on an eye or in the mouth, seek veterinary assistance immediately. Treatment will be given as needed based on the severity of the wound.
Recovery of Abrasions in Horses
Recovery will depend on the severity of the abrasion, the amount of infection involved, and the process of healing, and is determined on a case by case basis. While most superficial wounds can be cleared with minor treatment quickly, those involving pain, severe infection and lameness need a much longer course of treatment. During the healing process, you will need to clean and change any bandaging daily. Your veterinarian may give you medications to administer at home, as well as a timetable for treatments. Monitor the wound closely, watching for progress and reporting any negative signs to your veterinarian immediately.
Prevent further damage by identifying the source of injury and creating a safer environment for your horse. Make sure your horse remains current with a tetanus vaccination, as this is always a threat.