Cold weather wound care

Winter can make any horsekeeping task more difficult, but freezing temperatures present unique challenges when it comes to caring for your horse’s minor wounds. If you are faced with a first-aid situation this winter, keep a few things in mind:

• Warm water is critical. Every wound, no matter how small, benefits from a thorough flushing with clean water. If your barn doesn’t have warm running water, however, the water coming from the faucet may be so cold that it damages delicate tissues and, of course, makes the flushing process unpleasant for both you and your horse. But there are several simple ways to warm your water, including a bucket heater or electric teakettle. Or, you could bring warm water from the house in a Thermos or an insulated cooler. In all but the most bitterly cold temperatures, a horse’s body heat will keep water from freezing once it hits his wound, so you can just gently wash the area. When temperatures dip well below freezing, however, you’ll also need warm towels to pat the area dry
after it has been cleaned.

Medications may freeze. Wound washes, ointments, sprays and other preparations aren’t necessarily all-weather items. Temperature extremes can alter a product, making it less effective or even harmful. Before applying any to your horse in sub-zero weather, read the label carefully for warnings that the product should not be used after it has frozen. If you see no warnings, you can use the product but you may need to warm it up first—particularly ointments. Placing the tube or container inside your jacket for a few minutes usually does the trick.

• More complex wound care may need to be done in a different environment. Your veterinarian may not be able to explore a wound, debride dead tissue or suture skin in extremely cold conditions. If there isn’t an equine clinic nearby you can ship to, explore other options. A cleared-out, heated garage might work, but it would be even better to move your horse to a warmer barn nearby. Consider such emergencies now, so you’ll have a plan in mind if the time ever comes.

This article first appeared in EQUUS issue #449, February 2015. 

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