Stop the Bleeding
Cooling Your Horse Down
Your horse got mixed up with something he shouldn't have out in the field. He's cut badly. There's blood everywhere. Do you dare take the time to call your vet? And what can you do to stop that gush of red?
It looks awful, but it's probably not as bad as it looks. For one thing, even a little blood looks like a lot spilling out of a cut or puddling on the floor. For another, just as you can safely give the Red Cross a pint of blood, a horse can lose a gallon and a half of blood with no consequences. Unless he's cut a jugular vein or has been bleeding for a long time, he's unlikely to lose enough to endanger himself.
The more information you can provide, the better you'll prepare the vet, and the more specifically he can advise you. Three things to find out before you call:
Where is the wound? Lower legs, from the knees down, are where most severe bleeding happens because their major blood vessels are close to the surface. Wounds over a tendon or a joint can be serious because of the structures they may involve. Bleeding from the head looks dramatic, but no major blood vessels are near the surface; unless the skull is damaged, bleeding there rarely presents danger.
How is the wound bleeding? In arterial bleeding, blood spurts out; it's coming fromt he heart and traveling under high pressure. Arteries in the lower leg are vulnerable because they run close to the surface: over the back of the sesamoid bones and down the back of the pastern, and, in the hind leg, next to the splint bone. Arteries higher in the body are buried deeper and are more protected.
Venous bleeding is slower and more consistent; the blood is returning to the heart under lower pressure. Many veins sit fairly close to the surface; in the leg, these include the saphenous vein, which is large and easily visible on the inside of the hock and hind leg. Where a vein and an artery are right next to each other, as at the back of the sesamoid, an accident might easily sever both; in that case bleeding is quite profuse.
Wound size doesn't always equal severity. Small puncture wounds can be much more dangerous than big ones because they're hard to clean completely, so bacteria can get trapped inside.
How recent is the wound? Time is critical. A wound treated and sutured during the first six hours after it happens has the best chance of being cleaned out completely and not becoming infected. That's why I advise calling your veterinarian before you do anything else.
Help the body heal itself: Clotting is your horse's natural defense against bleeding. You can help the process along by applying pressure over the wound, giving the clot something to form against. Ideally, you do that with a pressure bandage. If the wound is where you can't wrap it, such as high on the body, steady manual pressure will do the job until clotting shuts off the flow or help arrives.
One good thing about a profusely bleeding wound is that it's self-cleaning, so you're safe encouraging clotting while you wait for your vet. Of course, you want whatever you put on the wound to be clean, too; if you have a barn first aid kit handy, that's not a problem. If you're not that lucky, you can make do with a clean towel or shirt, even a clean saddle pad if that's all you have.
Where you can't wrap: When you can't put pressure on a wound by surrounding it with a bandage, you can still apply manual pressure. Start with a thick wad of gauze if possible, and just press it onto the wound area as firmly as you can. Add padding if the blood comes through; don't remove what's there and distrub the clotting process. Manual pressure on facial wounds is not recommended, they normally stop bleeding on their own.
Stem the flow: What you know about the wound can help you limit the amount of bleeding. If you're sure you're dealing with a severed artery in a leg, for example, try to slow the flow by pressing down directly on the artery just above the wound. You may have even better luck with a severed vein, applying pressure below the wound because the blood is traveling up the leg; the saphenous vein inside the hock, for example, is easy to see, so it's easy to put pressure on to help the bandage do it's work.
What else you can do: Keep calm and keep the pressure on are the main guidelines to follow while you wait for your vet. If you and the vet have worked together before, he may suggest a few additional things you can do, but don't start any treatment on your own and risk upsetting a delicate balance.
You want your horse to stay calm; if his stall is convenient and he's calm there, that's where you want him, unless he's the rare horse who's bled so much that he's showing signs of possible shock from fluid loss: shakiness, elevated pulse, pale mucous membranes in the mouth. In that case, he's better off outside on the soft grass, where he'll be cushioned if he collapses.
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On hot summer days, your horse is at risk for overheating during his regular workouts, on trail rides, while being hauled, and at shows. Overheating can lead to dehydration, muscle cramping, colic, kidney failure - even shock and death.
To find out if your horse is overheated, take his temperature. An overheated horse's rectal temperature can be as high as 104 to 107.6 degrees Fahrenheit; normal is between 99 and 101.5 degrees. If your horse's temperature reaches 105 degrees, call your vet! Here's a three-step method to help cool your hot horse quickly and safely.
Step 1: Move him to a shady area, and get the air around him moving - an electric fan is one good way to do this. The shade will protect him against the sun's heating effects; air movement will aid in evaporation of moisture from his body. The latter is his primary mode of cooling.
Step 2: With cool water, swab the areas where major blod vessels are close to the surface: the jugular veins in his neck; in his armpits and the inner surfaces of his forelegs; and in his groin and the inner surfaces of his thighs. Then wet his major muscle groups: rump, back, and shoulders.
Step 3: Repeat this swabbing procedure every 5 minutes, or as soon as your horse air-dries, until his temperature returns to normal.
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