Ask the Vet: Equine Wound Care

Answered by, Nolton Pattio, VMD, Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Courtesy of AAEP

Question: I have a 6-year-old Quarter horse gelding that recently had a small cut on the bulb of his heel. It was healing nicely until he scraped the scab off with barb wire and the cut is now infected and that side of his heel is swollen. Is there something I can do prior to the veterinarian’s examination?

Answer: Cuts and wounds on the heel bulb can be difficult to manage; due to their location, ground proximity, and wound tension, wound healing may be delayed.  Heel bulb wounds may reoccur due to additional trauma.

Treatment may involve surgical repair either by suturing the wound edges or by removing a flap.  Systemic or local antibiotics may (or may not) be used.  The wound should be kept clean daily using an antiseptic wound scrub such as povidone iodine (Betaine) or chlorhexidine (Nolvasan).  You may apply a topical wound dressing such as Betadine or nitrofurazone, triple antibiotic, Swat, or other antimicrobial wound treatment ointment.  Silver aluminum spray (AlluSpray) may also be used topically.

You will need to decide whether or not to bandage the heel bulb wound, depending on time, traumatic recurrence or contamination issues, infection, wound tension, and other factors.  In some cases, the heel bulb wounds can be successfully managed by leaving the wound open, without a bandage, and applying silver aluminum spray topically 1-2 times daily.  The outcome may result in a scar, but the horse usually returns to complete function, depending on the case.

Consultation with your veterinarian will be useful concerning treatment options and the specifics of your  situation.

Question: I can’t prevent my horse from getting summer sores. How can I prevent this and what is the best method of treatment? 

Answer: Summer sores, also called cutaneous habronemiasis, usually involves a skin wound that gets infected with fly eggs and larvae. It is common in Florida, especially during the summer months. Fly control, in both the environment and on the horse, are essential elements in the prevention of summer sores. Adequate grooming, stable management, routine deworming and parasite control are helpful in the prevention of summers sores in horses.

Diagnosis of summer sores in the horse involves veterinary consultaion. Your veterinarian may decide to biopsy the granulomatous skin lesion to confirm the diagnosis of habronemiasis. Other similarly appearing, granulomatous skin lesions in Florida horses include exhuberant granulation tissue (proud flesh), sarcoids, phycomycosis (fungal wound infection, also called leeches), and skin cancers such as squamous cell carcinomas, cutaneous lymphoma, etc. These and other skin lesions may appear grossly similar, and a biopsy and histopathology (laboratory, microscope, pathologist) may help to differentiate one lesion from another or confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment of summer sores include deworming the horse with ivermectin or similar class dewormers such as moxidectin or Ivermectin Gold to kill the fly larvae in the wound and to improve wound healing. Fly sprays are also used to reduce further fly related complications. Adequate wound care management such as daily cleaning with povidone iodine or chlorhexidine scrub, and applying a wound care dressing with fly preventative (Swat) is also useful in the treatment of summer sores.  In severe, non-healing, complicated or recurring skin wound cases, surgical debridement and resection of the lesion may be necessary.

Please consult with your veterinarian concerning the particulars of your case for specific wound care management ideas. Good luck to you and your horse.