5 First-Aid Kit Essentials
NNothing is worse than trying to hunt down supplies when your horse is ill or injured at home and on the road. So a little pre-planning on your part — assembling your own first-aid kit — will make handling these emergencies go more smoothly. The most common first-aid situations with horses are: (1) injuries of all sorts; (2) respiratory or other infectious diseases; and (3) colic. Your first-aid kit should reflect these situations.
1 Thermometer 1 Any time your horse is off feed, looking droopy, or acting out of sorts, first take his temperature. Even if he has obvious symptoms, such as a cough or runny manure, your veterinarian will need to know if your horse has a fever.
Traditional mercury thermometers for horses are five inches long, have a heavy plastic screw-top case, and a loop at the end. A heavy string or tape can be run through the loop and secured to an alligator clip or clothespin. This is clamped to the tail hairs to prevent it from falling and breaking. Digital thermometers are safer than mercury thermometers, as they’re harder to break and mercury-free. You should also check your horse’s pulse with a stethoscope.
2“Sharps” There are several small sharp implements you should store in your first-aid kit. First, you’ll need scissors to trim back long hairs overlying wounds and to trim bandaging materials to fit. Also include heavy shears or a knife strong enough to cut through a halter, crossties, leg straps, and blankets in case your horse gets tangled or hung up. And be sure to keep handy a sturdy pair of pliers for pulling off loose or sprung shoes.
3 Wound wash Gentle washing is the first step in removing surface contamination (dirt, plant material, hair, bedding, etc.) from a wound and reducing the number of bacteria on its surface. Unless there’s heavy bleeding that needs to be stopped first, clean wounds with obviously visible contamination by directing a stream of water above the wound and allowing it to run over the surface. Never direct water under pressure, even light hose pressure, straight onto a wound or cut. This can actually drive debris or contaminants deeper in.
The initial water cleaning may result in a little bleeding. If this isn’t heavy, it’s to be expected from loosening surface clots. Ignore this, and proceed to cleansing. Betadine scrub, or another wound-disinfecting scrub made with povidone (“tamed”) iodine is a good choice, although some horses may be sensitive to it. A two percent chlorhexidine-based scrub is well tolerated even by sensitive-skinned horses.
Leave the removal of materials deeply embedded in a wound to your veterinarian to avoid triggering heavy bleeding. If you don’t have gloves, wash your hands with the surgical scrub, including under your fingernails, for a good five minutes before touching the wound.
For the initial cleansing, use either gauze sponges or just your hands to gently work up a lather on the wound. Use very light pressure only. Leave the lathered scrub on the wound for 5 to 10 minutes, then rinse thoroughly. Never use cotton balls or roll cotton to clean a wound. These leave irritating fibers behind, embedded in the tissues.
4 Topicals for Wounds Wounds heal best in a warm, moist environment. Simply covering a wound is a good way to fight dehydration of the tissues and trap body heat. If you do choose to apply a topical medication, what you use is largely a matter of choice. A layer of petroleum jelly on the wound-surface side of the first layer of bandaging works great in preventing the bandage from sticking to the wound. Others prefer antibiotic wound creams or herbal-based products, such as aloe vera. If you use a petroleum-jelly-impregnated wound dressing under a bandage, no other topical is needed.
As you assemble your first-aid kit, make sure to include these five essentials. BY ELEANOR M. KELLON, VMD
On the other hand, superficial abrasions that ooze, but don’t go completely through all skin layers, may be best handled by a spray that will seal the tissues and protect them from insects. Sprays based on aluminum, gentian violet, and scarlet red oil serve this purpose well. If you have a large open wound that can’t be bandaged, consult your veterinarian for the best approach.
One human product, Bactine, can come in handy with painful wounds. You can use it to desensitize tender wounds before working on them or to saturate sticking bandages before removing them. You can also use it as the sole dressing on superficial wounds and to ease sunburn pain on pink-skinned horses.
5 Bandaging Materials Whenever possible, injuries should be bandaged to keep them in a warm and moist environment and enhance healing. For the outer layer of bandage material, a self-adherent bandage, such as Vetrap, Coban, or Co-Flex, is ideal. These materials “breathe,” allow you to fine tune the pressure, and are disposable. Use scissors or a knife to cut a vertical line through the bandage and open it up to remove it. Keep four to six rolls of Vetrap in your first-aid kit.
A layer between your outermost self-adhesive wrap and the wound dress- ing will help absorb drainage and pad the wound. Gamgee is a favorite for this. It’s a two-layered material, with a center of highly absorbent cotton wool and a synthetic outer surface that will resist sticking to the wound. Keep at least one 12-foot roll on hand. Gamgee can also be used to pack hoof abscesses.
For the early stages of healing of open wounds — when there’s a high volume of drainage — use petroleum-jelly-impregnated gauze for the layer immediately over the wound. Without this, wound drainage may dry out between bandage changes and even stick to something like Gamgee.
As the amount of drainage lessens, switch to dry nonstick/nonadherent wound pads. Once drainage has ceased, or an open wound has granulated over to a smooth bed, this additional layer can be eliminated and the wound wrapped with only Gamgee. TTR
Here’s how to assemble your own first-aid kit to handle the five most common equine emergencies.