4 Stages of Your Horse's Wound Healing

Posted on
November 17, 2018

With most products, there are too many choices. How is a consumer supposed to recognize what will actually help heal a horse wound? There are salves, ointments, and sprays. Should you bandage or not bandage? How often should you be applying treatment? What’s the best way to avoid proud flesh?

Some answers might not be what you think, so read on to better understand:

  • Equine Wound Products
  • Wound Healing Stages
  • Tips on caring for equine wounds

Equine Wound Products

In an Equus article on wound ointments for horses, George Hollis, a researcher who studies veterinary wound care, noted that people don’t really know why they use certain wound products on their horses; they just assume they’ll work.

“There is no doubt that part of wound dressing is psychological,” she said. “The creams cover up nasty-looking skin and make you feel that you've helped your horse in some way.” Humans can understand this tendency, too, as it seems more protective to put on thick hand creams or lotions when our hands are really dry rather than a thinner one.

However, if you want to maximize your horse’s wound recovery, you should steer clear of salves and creams at first. Hollis explained that a key part of the wound healing process is the wet, oozing stage—the debridement stage—when white blood cells flood the wound site in order to get rid of dead cells and bacteria. This stage, which lasts a day or two and begins within an hour of the injury, requires a moist environment so that the white blood cells can move around easily to chase down bacteria.

illustration of white blood cells
White blood cells. (Photo: courtesy of Medical News Today)

Hollis explained that not only does a thicker cream or powder limit the mobility of white blood cells, but it can also cause the body to react against the cream or powder as if it is an invader. This is because its consistency is so different from anything the body produces: “Essentially, the body sees these thick ointments as something to get rid of and mounts a defense against them.” Instead, Hollis recommends a hydrogel product—a clear liquid that keeps the wound moist so as not to interfere with the white blood cell clean-up crew.

The best treatment option, then, allows the wound to retain its moisture so that the debridement stage is successful and white blood cells can remove bacteria and dead skin cells from the wound site. Fauna Care Equine Sprays are similarly a wet spray that is not lathered on thickly, allowing the wound to breathe and the body to carry out this healing process. The other ingredients in the sprays, such as zinc oxide, silver, and bacitracin, aid the healing process as well.  

horse galloping through grass

4 Wound Healing Stages

We’ve introduced the debridement stage to you, but there are a few more stages. Here is a step-by-step process of how a wound actually heals—or should—so that you can gage how well your horse is doing.

Before we begin, though, it’s important to note that in any and all cases, there are certain signs that should alert you to seek vet attention, as they signal either a very serious wound or infection:

  • The wound gapes when your horse moves
  • The wound is above or close to a joint, tendon, or bone
  • Your horse is losing a lot of blood—as in eight quarts
  • The wound has hair, dirt, or debris in it
  • At least six hours have passed since the injury
  • Your horse is having trouble walking

If it has been at least six hours since the injury event, you should also seek vet attention, as after this window, chances of infection are higher.

It might seem like a lot could go wrong, but Equus notes that in most cases, you can treat your horse’s wound on your own. However, it’s important that you use the right product and do your research when tending to a wound. Here are the stages of wound healing you should be familiar with as you look after your horse:

1. The immediate stage:

Immediately, the wound enlarges and blood vessels contract, then dilate, as chemicals and white blood cells flood into the wound site. During this time, you must clean the wound with an iodine-based, chlorhexidine-based, or sterile saline substance (usually 0.9%).

2. The debridement stage:

White blood cells do most of the work here. This is the moist stage during which a Fauna Care product will benefit the wound by maintaining the moisture while still cleaning the wound. White blood cells will do a lot of the work as they kill bacteria and digest debris. It’s important to note that pus is actually a sign of the healing process at this point, as long as redness or the smell of infection do not accompany it. If they do, you have an abscess on your hands, and you should visit your vet immediately. If they do not and the wound does not look inflamed, gently wipe off the pus if it accumulates and apply more of your hydrogel product or wound spray afterwards.

horse in field

3. The repair stage:

Blood vessels and new cells grow to repair damaged tissue so that the wound contracts and shrinks in size. A scab begins to form.

4. The maturation stage:

The wound spot slowly strengthens and becomes more similar to the surrounding skin. During both the maturation and repair stages, it’s important to keep the spot conditioned as proud flesh can develop. A wound ointment is helpful, or something that conditions the skin and softens tissues such as Fauna Care Protect & Condition, which moisturizes the skin and prevents dryness. Hollis recommends applying an emollient or moisturizing product for several months since a wound can take up to a year to regain 80% of its original tissue strength.

As simpler formulas are a safer route, Fauna Care fits the bill by avoiding extraneous ingredients like irritating preservatives, surfactants, alcohol or fragrances.

Tips

Here are some general tips to follow when caring for your horse’s wound:

When? Address the wound as soon as possible. This will increase the treatment’s effectiveness and prevent dirt or debris from working their way into the wound. The “golden period” is the first six hours after your horse is injured; if you take care of the wound during this time, your horse will have much higher chances at a fast and safe recovery.

Vaccinations? Make sure your horse has had a tetanus shot; always be prepared. Your horse might even need a booster shot after the injury.

Bandage it? As a general rule, bandage the wound if it is on the leg using non-stick gauze. Change the bandage at least daily. If the wound is above the elbow, you most likely don’t need to bandage it since this area of the horse’s body doesn’t move as much and disturb the wound. Change the bandage at least every 24 hours. You can discontinue bandaging once granulation tissue completely covers the wound, as at this point, the granulation tissue is a natural barrier to pathogens; in time, skin should grow over it rather than the tissue bunching up to create proud flesh.

It is important to isolate infected pets—maybe by keeping them in one room with few belongings in it for easy clean-up. This is especially important since infected pets remain contagious for about three weeks after treatment has begun.

hand on horse's face

What to do about proud flesh? If the granulation tissue that covers the wound does begin to bunch up and become excessive—resulting in a “cauliflower-like appearance”—then your horse is developing proud flesh. At this point, it’s vital that you have your veterinarian debride, or remove, the flesh. This might take several visits.

Overall, keep a careful eye on your horse’s wound, and watch for signs of infection. Consistent attention to a wound is important, and Fauna Care offers a line of products that makes this easy, as application takes minimal time. It’s also necessary that you understand what a wound should look like and why it takes on this appearance so you can recognize infection versus proper healing.

Posted on
July 3, 2018
in
Advice
category