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A laceration is essentially a slice or tear through the skin or a membrane on or within the horse's body creating an open wound. If the laceration is deep, gaping tissue flaps may reveal layers of fat, membrane, muscle, cartilage, tendons, and/or bone.

More superficial lacerations may merely break the skin and expose the tissue immediately beneath.

The laceration needs to be examined carefully considering the depth, location, and characteristics of the wound when making a decision about whether or not to call a veterinarian. If the laceration is so deep that it is evident it won't heal properly without sutures, or if there is possibility of infection, such as tetanus, the veterinarian should be called immediately.

The most common lacerations include those affecting eyelids, the horse's face, ear flaps, mouth, lips and tongue, nostrils, coronet, feet and legs, perineum, rectum, vagina, and cervix.


  • A cut, tear, or slice through the outer covering or membrane of an organ, or through the skin of the horse
  • Bleeding
  • Swelling around wound


Lacerations to the eyelids, face, ear flaps, mouth, lips and tongue, nostrils, coronet, and feet and legs are usually caused by contact with barbed wire, nails, and sharp edges on fence posts or other stable or barn fixtures. .

Neglected teeth, rough handling with tack or harsh bits, and contact with the hoofs or teeth of other horses and sometimes with automobiles also lead to lacerations.

Lacerations to the perineum, rectum, vagina, and cervix are usually the result of foal delivery problems, breeding problems, or mishaps during an examination, especially in the case of rectal lacerations.


Care must be taken to keep the horse's environment free of sharp objects and prevent situations where a horse might injure itself by putting its head, foot or other body part through a fence, gate, or other  place where it might injure itself trying to escape being caught. Preventing injurious contact with other horses, tack that is broken or doesn't fit well and automobiles will also help in preventing lacerations.

Usually, common sense dictates that materials in fences, barns, stables, and around riding paths are conducive to safety both for the horse and the rider. Keeping all areas of the barnyard, paddock, and fencing in good repair will also help prevent accidents leading to lacerations.

In addition, interactions between or among horses should be monitored to minimize dangers from kicking, biting, or other destructive behaviors.

When a mare is foaling, careful attention to the foaling process and quick reaction to unforeseen problems will help minimize lacerations.

A rectal laceration is a potential hazard whenever a horse is examined by rectal palpation. If the tear is deep, the potential for peritonitis is great. Rectal examinations should be done only by a veterinarian or skilled personnel to prevent injuries that can have serious consequences.


If the laceration is bleeding profusely, near an eye or joint, or deep enough that tendons, bone, or internal organs are exposed, a veterinarian should be called immediately. Extensive lacerations usually need stitches to heal properly. Small lacerations may not need to be sutured, but care must be taken to make sure they do not become infected and that they are healing properly. .

If the horse has not been immunized against tetanus, prompt tetanus prophylaxis is necessary. If already immunized, a booster shot should be given.

In the case of lacerations, the most important considerations are to stop any bleeding, prevent infection, and to repair the laceration to prevent scarring or further injuries to the horse. Treatment will depend on the extent of the injury, where it is located, and how active the horse is. .

In the case of any severe laceration, the horse should be sedated and restrained, both for the safety of the horse and the veterinarian. Pressure bandages may be used to stop bleeding. Nerve blocks, intravenous sedation, or a general anesthetic will be recommended depending on the situation.

Once bleeding is controlled, the laceration should be cleaned, usually by lavage to remove bacteria and any foreign matter. Once it is clean, sutures may be necessary to hold the flaps of the laceration in place for satisfactory healing.

In the case of mouth or tongue injuries, a horse should be switched to a soft diet of wet hay or soft pellets. Extensive wounds may require feeding through a nasogastric tube.

If the laceration is in a place where infection could lead to peritonitis or other acute infections, antibiotics and further treatment to reduce possible infection will be an important part of the treatment.

Eyelid, ear flap, nostril, and facial injuries require special care with sutures and treatments to minimize scarring and prevent possible distortion of features or actions.

Lacerated tendons require the utmost care in repair to prevent future spontaneous ruptures. Surgical repair, with immobilization for a proper time period, is necessary, and special shoes may need to be considered. Usually it takes at least a year before the effectiveness of treatment can be fully evaluated.

The timing of when to make repairs because of lacerations sustained during foaling will be dependent on the nature and location of the lacerations. Because of the propensity for bleeding, the uterus and vagina may need to be packed with strips of petroleum gauze until bleeding stops, after which lacerations may be sutured and treated to prevent infection.

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EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.