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Frequently Asked Questions

First Aid


Q6)  What is the correct way to ice an injury?

There are general guidelines for icing an injury.  The  location and type of injury will determine how to ice the injury and what type of ice pack or icing method to use.

There are several types of ice packs:  chemical, flexible and rigid.

Chemical ice packs are usually pouches of chemicals that when mixed together create a very cold chemical reaction. They are great to have if you are away from a cooler or refrigerator, but can be dangerous in that they have the potential to cause frostbite.

Flexible ice packs are pouches that contain small bits of frozen material such as ice chips, frozen peas or corn.  These are usually readily available in your freezer at home - easy to grab in an emergency.  Gel packs are a type of flexible ice pack that are stored in your freezer.  

Rigid ice packs are the packs that you would use in a cooler.  You can also freeze wet cloths and store them in your freezer.

The general icing guidelines are as follows:

  • for injuries over intact skin:  ice on for 5 minutes, one application only
  • for injuries with broken skin:  ice on for 5 minutes and ice off for 15 minutes repeating up to three times
  • keep the ice on until it melts or becomes as warm as the skin underneath it
  • use a layer or layers of cloth in between the ice source and the tissue

The location of the injury requires a different ice pack:

  • for injuries to the eye or other sensitive areas use a flexible ice pack using at least one layer of cloth under the ice
  • for injuries to large muscled areas such as hip, stifle or forearm, apply a rigid non-chemical ice pack directly to unbroken skin; if the skin is broken, apply a cloth layer between the ice and the skin
  • for injuries to areas that are bony such as legs, face or hooves, use a flexible ice pack directly on unbroken skin; if the skin is broken, place a layer of cloth between the ice and the wound
  • for injuries to the joint areas use a flexible ice pack directly on unbroken skin; if the skin is broken, place a cloth between the ice and the wound

The general rule of thumb when using a chemical ice pack is that when skin is intact, use one layer of cloth between skin and ice; if skin is broken, use at least a double layer of cloth between wound and ice.

Additional methods of icing an injury include ice boots, water tubs, and cold water bandages.

Cold water bandages are bandages that are soaked in ice water and applied like a standard leg bandage. It is important to re-soak the bandage with cool or cold water in order to prevent the bandage from drying out while it is on the horse.  The bandage will shrink if it is left to dry on the horse causing pressure on the leg.

Ice boots are made out of rubber, canvas or plastic and cover the entire length of the horse's leg.  They are secured by a strap over the withers.  Chipped ice or ice cubes are poured down into the boots and the melted ice eventually runs out the bottom of the boot. They effectively cool the leg until the ice melts.  

Water tubs can be any size tub that covers the area to be iced; it can be a five gallon tub or bucket to soak the feet ,ankles and tendons or a nine inch tub to soak just the foot. Crushed or chipped ice is placed in the tub and filled with water.  The horse's leg is placed in the tub for approximately 20 minutes at a time for one to two hours.  Remember to put a rubber mat in the bottom of the tub to prevent the horse from slipping when it steps into the tub.

There are many books on the subject of first aid and wound care.  In addition to the list below, you can find more in the Veterinary Care section of the online catalog.

Other valuable resources include:

Back to First Aid Index    

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