What are Lacerations?
The treatment of lacerations in horses will vary depending on many factors, such as depth and infection. In some cases, your horse may require suturing in order to heal. It is essential that if your horse suffers a laceration, treatment is sought promptly to stop bleeding, reduce the risk of infection, and provide supportive treatment.
Lacerations in horses can occur due to numerous situations. A laceration is a slice through the skin or membrane. These may be superficial or may involve the fat, muscle, cartilage, tendons or bone. The most commonly affected areas are of the face, mainly the mouth, lips, tongue and nostrils. During foaling the vagina and cervix may also suffer from lacerations.
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Symptoms of Lacerations in Horses
The most common symptom of lacerations will be visible tears or cuts through membrane or skin. Involvement of other tissue such as fat, cartilage, muscle or bone may also be seen. Other symptoms may include localized swelling around the wound, or bleeding. In cases of infection localized heat and purulent discharge may be seen.
- Heat with infection
- Discharge with infection
Causes of Lacerations in Horses
The causes of lacerations vary and in some cases it may not be possible to pinpoint the origin. Causes may include:
- Contact with barbed wire, nails, damaged or sharp edges of fences, barn fixtures or debris left in paddocks
- Trauma during foaling
- Roughing handling of tack
- Automobile collisions
- Trauma from other horses
- Injury during examinations, particularly during rectal examinations
Diagnosis of Lacerations in Horses
Your veterinarian will carefully examine the injury to assess:
- Tissue or organ involvement
- Further unseen trauma that may have occurred (such as internal bleeding or skeletal fractures)
- Depth of the laceration
- Presence of infection
- Presence and volume of bleeding
Your veterinarian may choose to perform radiographs to assess your horse for bone involvement.
Treatment of Lacerations in Horses
The treatment your horse requires will vary depending on the type of trauma. The main aims of treatment are:
- To reduce bleeding
- Reduce the risk of infection
- Encourage the skin to come together – suturing may be indicated
- To prevent further tissue damage
Your horse may require nerve blocks to allow your veterinarian to examine the injury. In severe cases intravenous sedation or general anesthetic may be necessary for treatment. If the laceration is bleeding profusely the main concern of your veterinarian will be preventing hemorrhage. In order to reduce bleeding your veterinarian may use pressure bandaging or ligate the affected blood vessels.
As infection control is essential your veterinarian will clean the wound with a lavage. Following lavage your veterinarian will likely suture the skin to assist healing. Small lacerations will not require suturing; however, your veterinarian will assist in cleaning the wound and discuss wound care to reduce the risk of infection.
If your horse has not up to date with immunizations, tetanus prophylaxis may be required. In some cases, the antibiotic prophylaxis may also be indicated.
If tendon or ligament damage has occurred, surgical repair may be required with intensive, restrictive recovery. For trauma and lacerations during foaling your veterinarian may monitor and treat supportively with packing, and assess for need of suturing once bleeding has been controlled. To provide pain relief your horse may be given non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication.
Recovery of Lacerations in Horses
In order to reduce the risk of your horse suffering from lacerations the following steps should be taken:
- Ensure your horse’s environment is free of risks such as broken fencing or sharp edging and if damage occurs fix immediately or block access to the area
- Ensure the paddocks are suitably fenced to prevent escape
- Use alternatives to barbed wire
If your horse has suffered lacerations that reduce the ability to eat, such as mouth or tongue injuries, you may need to feed your horse a soft diet during recovery. In some cases, nasogastric nutrition may be indicated.
If tendon or ligament damage occurred and your horse required surgical repair, it may be up to a year until surgical success can be assessed. During this time careful immobilization and care will be required. Factors that may complicate or prevent full recovery are:
- Nerve damage – Loss of sensation may improve over time, however in some cases complete loss of function may occur
- Laceration and damage to large blood vessels to limbs that may result in amputation
- Permanent tendon and ligament damage may occur that may impact athletic of work performance
- Bone injury, infection or sequestrum