I had a nice head injury this week to first aid. Not mine – one of the horses.
I went to get him in and he mooched over as normal, but as I slipped his head collar on I noticed a wound on his forehead.
So I took him up to the yard and rang his owner to find out where her first aid kit was and then had a closer inspection.
Thankfully it was only a superficial wound; the hair had come off in a round patch, but the skin hadn’t broken. So I cleaned the graze and surrounding hair with hibiscrub and cotton wool to make sure there wasn’t any mud or grime to get into it, and also to make sure I hadn’t missed a deeper wound under the hair. All seemed well, so I put some purple spray on the area and left it for nature to take it’s course.
Everyone has different thoughts on first aid – do you dry out the wound, smear it in cream, leave it to breathe, or cover it up? I think at some point you’re told to do any one of those things, and it all depends on the type of wound. I prefer the letting it breathe and dry out if possible, but obviously if it’s going to get muddy or dirty then best to try to prevent an infection entering.
I think the cleaning stage is pretty much the same for everyone. Dilute hibiscrub in warm water is the most popular way. But did you know that hibiscrub actually destroys skin tissue so needs to be very dilute – so the water is barely tinged pink. Many people use too strong a mixture. For this reason too, I also don’t like over cleaning with hibiscrub. The other options are salt water or saline solution. What I like about salt water and hibiscrub solution is that you can make up as much or as little as you need, whereas saline solution often has to be used within a certain amount of time of opening.
Once a wound is cleaned there are a couple more options. Wound powder, which is an antibacterial fine powder is mostly known to help a wound dry out. Which I guess is best with wounds with a lot of fluid, perhaps where blood is involved. However, wound powder can be tricky to apply because it blows around in any wind and doesn’t always stick to a wound, especially if it’s on the side or facing the ground. The other problem I’ve seen is that the nozzle or container gets damp which I’d imagine would reduce the effectiveness of the powder, as well as making it difficult to apply. With this head wound, I didn’t feel wound powder would stick to the site of injury and I was also concerned about it blowing into his eyes as I applied it, and shaking a bottle around his head.
Sudocrem, or the equivalent equine versions, are often the go to ointment. Ointments get a bad name because whilst they seal the injury and prevent bacteria entering, they also don’t allow them to breathe which hinders the healing process. But then if an injury is likely to get dirty (during turn out perhaps) it is better to put some form of ointment plus bandage over it. If I needed to use ointment on a wound I’d ensure it was scrupulously cleaned, but also that it had some time to dry and air between cleaning and applying the cream, or between applications of the cream to ensure the healing process isn’t hindered. You can also get gels, such as Aloe Vera which have soothing properties. I find this really useful on bites or stings which horses will then scratch. I’ve actually just put some on Otis’s neck where he’s rubbed a fly bite.
Purple spray, or iodine spray, is the other main contestant for treating a wound. It’s an antibacterial solution and has the benefit that you can spray it upside down (for any sarcoids around the sheath) and it doesn’t form a seal on the wound like ointment, so allows it to breathe. You just need to be aware that some horses don’t like the hiss of the spray. Personally, purple spray tends to be my go to for minor scrapes or grazes.
Do horse’s get concussion? That was one of my thoughts when I was treating this horse. It depends on how they get a head wound, whether it’s by banging their head on a hard object or not. I’m fairly sure this horse rubbed his forehead on something abrasive in the field, as opposed to a direct hit. Their skulls are harder than ours, which you’d know if you’ve ever banged heads with a horse – but that’s another story – which I’d have thought would mean they’d be less likely to get concussion. I remember hearing about a horse who was being difficult to load and reared and fell over backwards, hitting her head. She starting fitting like she was epileptic, but when the vet came to treat her various injuries her withers had gone down inside her barrel, which must’ve impacted the spinal cord, and the injury to her head showed if not the skull, done grey matter too. Which I guess goes to show that they can get some form of concussion or headache from an injury. So if your horse comes in with a wound on his head it’s worth giving him a few hours of quiet time to let them recover from any headache they may have. Unfortunately they can’t tell us if it hurts, so it comes down to knowing your horse and when he’s withdrawn in himself.