Leg Wounds: Does He Need Stitches?

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You are an experienced horse person, but when your horse gets a gash or wound on his leg and it is bleeding profusely, it's hard to know whether or not he needs stitches. You don't want to bother your veterinarian if simple bandaging will suffice, but how do you know? On the other hand, why should you go to the trouble of getting stitches if you can stop the flow of blood?

There are many reasons to close a wound with stitches (sutures). First, this procedure prevents contamination from entering into deeper tissues, and second, it facilitates speed of healing and minimizes the scar. Today some veterinarians use staples as well as (or in place of) stitches, just like human doctors will do.

When you find a laceration on your horse, how do you ascertain if he needs stitches?

If, when looking at the wound, you can visualize tissues deep beneath the skin, then that is a wound that could probably use stitching. A gaping wound with edges that are readily pulled together is a candidate for suturing. A laceration with edges that are difficult to pull together may heal better if it is closed with stitches that reduce tension on the skin. A wound located in highly moveable areas of skin is also likely to heal better if the edges are stabilized with stitches.

What wounds do not invite stitching? A wound that has been present for more than 12-24 hours might be less likely to be sutured successfully because of excessive contamination. A deep puncture wound also should not be closed with stitches because it needs to be able to drain.

If a wound is to be sutured, then it is important to refrain from applying greasy, petroleum-based wound ointments or powders to the area in advance of being seen by your vet. These materials are difficult to remove and interfere with healing of the stitched edges.

The best advice is to clean the wound as thoroughly as possible with an antiseptic (chlorhexidine or tamed iodine) scrub, rinse well, then cover it with a light bandage until your vet can take over and handle the injury.

What you might think is a non-issue injury may, in fact, be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to depth of a wound. If there is any doubt about how to manage a leg wound, particularly over a joint or tendon, it is always best to consult your veterinarian.