With the growing interest in all things natural — and an increasing awareness about overuse of antibiotics in all forms — we undertook a field trial of wound-care products that contained only biological and botanical ingredients. Although they varied in versatility and effectiveness, many proved valuable options.
Wounds heal faster when the area is at least kept moist. In the absence of suturing, scabs perform this function and even bandaging helps prevent excessive drying. In some studies, wounds covered with a non-adherent pad soaked in saline solution healed the fastest, but this method is rarely an option for the horse. The best we can usually do is to bandage the wound and use a wound product that helps keep moisture in and contaminating substances out.
Topical antibiotics used to be standard treatment for any open wound, even suture lines. However, it’s no longer clear that they enhance wound healing. Some antibiotics even carry a risk of sensitivity reactions and/or may be toxic to the cells of the exposed wound. It’s no wonder botanical wound-care preparations are earning a reputation as effective.
Some botanical ingredients are included in wound products as a matter of tradition, while others have scientifically proven actions.
• Centella asiatica, or gotu kola, is the king of botanical wound care. Extracts of the roots and leaves of this plant are beneficial on fresh wounds as well as old wounds that aren’t healing well.
Centella asiatica stimulates collagen synthesis, increases glycosaminoglycan content, improves growth of new blood vessels and even improves the rate of new skin growth. It also has anti-inflammatory effects in fresh wounds. It can even decrease scar formation.
• Extracts of calendula are from the common marigold. Studies show that the polysaccharides from this plant react with open wound surfaces to form a tight bond that protects moisture levels in the exposed tissue and also provides a microscopic effective barrier to contamination by organisms or irritants. The tissues remain flexible. Pain is decreased due to protection from drying and also because of the anti-inflammatory effects of the calendula.
• Aloe is an old favorite. Wounds treated with aloe vera gel heal well. Like calendula, the polysaccharides in aloe gel form a protective barrier for the wound, allowing moist conditions to predominate. Evidence also suggests aloe may encourage collagen formation.
• Comfrey seems to have anti-inflammatory effects, easing pain and decreasing swelling. There is also a high content of mucilage, which helps seal the wound and encourages moist conditions and healing.
• Yarrow is primarily an astringent, for drying and antiseptic effects and control of bleeding.
Other ingredients found in many of these products include lavender (antiseptic, analgesic), sage (antiseptic, astringent), thyme (antiseptic), tea tree oil (antiseptic), St. John’s Wort (astringent), goldenseal (anti-inflammatory, antibacterial), and yellow dock (astringent).
The products in our field trials were used on everything from simple scrapes and rubs to large, open unsutured wounds, fresh wounds and chronic, slow-healing wounds. Our chart indicates the types of wounds we found individual products gave us the best results with.
Large wounds where the overlying skin has been lost pose the greatest challenges. Products that produce satisfactory results on minor injuries often don’t make the grade with large, open wounds.
Veterinus Derma Gel provided superior results even in chronic, open, poorly healing wounds. No bandaging is necessary, although it doesn’t hurt to bandage over it. Treated wounds remained clean and healthy-looking between treatments. An obvious soothing/analgesic effect was noted with the first applications and continued throughout the treatments. Excessive inflammation was well controlled. No excessive scarring was noted. Open wounds closed rapidly, even in cases where it had previously stopped at partial closure. Healing was excellent even with application only once a day.
The only difficulty we had with this product was on a horse that had a pre-existing serious wound infection — a deep, open wound with heavy drainage of pus and quite a bit of dead tissue. A three-day course of Derma Gel resulted in little improvement. However, when the wound was gently flushed with saline solution and the horse treated with two days of both intramuscular and local antibiotics, the heavy pus drainage slowed to a great extent. At that point, the antibiotics were stopped and treatment continued with only the Derma Gel. The wound healed extremely well.
Note: Under ordinary circumstances, a wound of this type would be treated for a longer period with antibiotics. However, the horse was an extremely fractious yearling, essentially unbroken, that resisted his injections to the point he required several experienced people to restrain him. Since this was not an option for the owner for a prolonged period, the decision was made to treat with the Derma Gel only and closely monitor. The application of Derma Gel was tolerated well.
Derma Gel is available in both a gel and a spray, but we preferred the gel.EMT Gel and HyCure were also outstanding overall. Both products recommend a thick application and are fairly pricey. Both EMT Gel and HyCure are made from collagen, the connective tissue framework.
HyCure goes on as a powder but forms a gel-like layer after interacting with the fluids on the wound. Both products produce an effective barrier against wound contamination and preserve moist conditions, acting much like an artificial “scab.” Wounds generally stayed clean and healthy-looking under these treatments, but we didn’t see any significant improvement in the healing time.
The only problems we experienced were on one horse where HyCure seemed to irritate his wound and , with EMG Gel, in another horse where a wound infection appeared several days into the treatment period.
While other products produced satisfactory results with large wounds, they could not match the level of tissue protection provided by Derma Gel, EMT Gel and HyCure. Attracting/trapping dirt and debris was a major problem with the creams and ointments, which was minimal to non-existent with these products.
Derma Gel performed as well on minor wounds as serious ones, resulting in rapid healing, excellent control of swelling and pain, no signs of irritation or infection, no heavy scarring or granulation tissue formation. Hair regrowth was rapid.
Horses Prefer Natural Wound Dressing Cream was excellent for both superficial cuts and wounds that broke through all the skin layers. It is lighter than the other creams and ointments, penetrating well with less tendency to accumulate dirt, kept wounds moist and healthy with a good rate of healing.
Both BioProducts Comfrey Salve and ABC’s Dy’s Liquid Bandage were also gentle to open tissues, soothing and supported good wound healing. However, these were heavier and waxier than Horses Prefer, more difficult to apply and held more dirt.
We found it helpful to warm both of these products before application to get a more liquid consistency, if necessary, even heating them in the microwave oven for about five seconds.
When You Can’t Bandage
Horses seem to have a talent for getting their worst injuries in areas that can’t be easily bandaged. Ideally, your wound dressing should keep moisture at the wound level high but keep contaminating bacteria and foreign material out, just like a bandage does. Bandages are not impervious, of course, but they do provide a good physical barrier while letting the wound “breathe” and drain.
Any powder, ointment, cream or spray you apply to a wound will provide a partial barrier — at least for as long as it remains in place. However, thick layers of medication also tend to attract dirt and foreign material. Powders are better than creams but do not provide the ideal conditions for wound healing.
By far the best seal was provided by AluShield. Even water/rain won’t remove it, although mild soaps will. The aluminum also has antibacterial effects and mild irritant and immune-stimulant properties that may encourage healing. However, aluminum is highly absorbed through broken skin and may even result in abnormalities in bone metabolism if used on wounds that require a long period of time to heal.
For this reason, we don’t recommend you use it as the sole product on extensive open wounds. We would suggest that you apply another wound-care product to the entire surface first, with the AluShield on top as a wound sealer.
We also got excellent results in protecting open wounds without a bandage with Derma Gel.
When Healing Stops
We also tested products on slowed or arrested healing, a common problem. When wounds were characterized by continued drainage, suggesting possible low-level infection, ISP Ointment did a fantastic job cleaning the wound and encouraging it to go on to heal.
Derma Gel, was also effective, as were HyCure and EMT Gel. However, the primary effect of the collagen found in HyCure and EMT Gel is to encourage fibroblast activity. This activity can result in excessive granulation tissue, and some wounds showed increased drainage with the collagens, suggesting irritation.
We loved Veterinus Derma Gel. It maintains ideal conditions for healing all wounds, even when bandaging isn’t possible, and results in rapid, problem-free healing. It’s also soothing. However, this product is only available through veterinarians. Call the manufacturer if your local vet doesn’t carry this product.
Therefore, our overall recommendation is Horses Prefer Natural Wound Dressing Cream, followed closely by ISP Ointment.
Both products are easily available and have a wide range of applications. They worked exceptionally well on everything from superficial scrapes and rubs to actual tough wounds of many types, including those with arrested healing. They also provide good protection from infection without irritation. Horses Prefer Natural Wound Dressing is also our Best Buy.
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