Puncture wounds in horses: all you need to know

Far too often, the first sign that you horse has suffered a puncture wound is a swollen, inflamed and infected area, where a puncture has been initially overlooked. This is particularly true of horses’ legs, where infection can spread extensively, and the whole leg may swell.

Look carefully for puncture wounds in any swollen area and when checking your horse over after exercise or turnout. Many are tiny and hard to see. Clues include a trickle of blood or a sensitive spot when you run your hands over the area, which may be combined with localised swelling. If you have a pair of suitable trimmers, carefully clipping the hair away from around the area will make it easier to see what is going on.

Once you have located the injury, bear in mind that small wounds can have serious consequences. The damage caused is dependent on the depth of the wound, how dirty it is and whether any vital structures are involved. A puncture wound can be fatal if it reaches a vital organ such as the brain, chest, abdomen or the inside of the foot.

Many first aid manuals warn you to look out for so-called ‘joint fluid’, an oily, clear to yellow substance, and that if you see this discharging from a wound, a joint could be involved. In reality, a wound is often far too messy to spot this, and many innocent superficial wounds discharge clear or yellow serum, which can appear similar.

Assess the wound to see if it is near a joint or other critical structure, such as the digital tendon sheath behind the pastern. Remember that some joints, such as the elbow, are very large. An injury that seems some distance away from the bending part of the joint may still communicate with it. Equally, infection can spread towards it.

In all cases a vet should be called to assess a puncture wound, or a suspected puncture wound, as it is often more serious that it initially appears and the sooner it receives expert attention, the more likely the horse will be able to make a rapid recovery.

Treatment for puncture wounds in horses

  • Clip the coat and carefully clean around a puncture wound using saline and cotton wool. Do not spray the wound directly with water, or apply any chemicals such as hydrogen peroxide. This could force contamination deeper, making potential infection worse
  • Apply a clean bandage and use a hydrogel on the wound. Your vet may recommend you apply a poultice to draw out any debris
  • Ensure your horse has been vaccinated against tetanus. These wounds provide the ideal environment for the bacteria that cause tetanus to flourish. All horses and ponies should be routinely vaccinated, but if you horse is not protected, they will need to be vaccinated when a wound is discovered

Potential risks of puncture wounds in horses

  • A foreign body could be stuck inside the wound, so ask yourself what could have caused the puncture. Be careful about introducing further infection by probing into the wound – leave this to your vet
  • Is it really a puncture? Two puncture points close together could be a snake bite, while a hole draining pus may be a burst abscess
  • Consider whether your horse is more lame than one would expect for the size of the wound and let the vet know when you speak to them.

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H&H.co.uk 16 Sept 2003