Preventing Proud Flesh in Horses

Is there a topical medication that assists in the healing cuts to reduce scarring and proud flesh? My Arab has a 21″ cut – stitches were just removed. I always use vitamin E but was hoping there was something else to combine with the E?

—PD, Kansas

Dear PD,

Reducing scarring and proud flesh are two different questions, so I’ll address each separately. Proud flesh is an overgrowth of the normal tissue that fills in healing wounds. Also known as exuberant granulation tissue, it occurs most commonly with injuries on the lower legs of horses and can be recognized by its characteristic red, rough appearance. You don’t say where your horse’s wound is on the body but that makes a big difference when it comes to the likelihood of proud flesh developing as well as your options for preventing it. In some cases, a well-wrapped bandage over a specific type of ointment is all you need to prevent proud flesh or even reduce mild amounts of it that have already formed. Obviously, it’s more difficult to bandage wounds on the body than on the legs. And by “specific type of ointment” I mean one that discourages new tissue growth but is still gentle on the rest of the surrounding tissue. There are some pretty scary home remedies out there for proud flesh so it’s best to talk to your veterinarian before applying any ointments. He or she can guide you to the best ones for your horse’s situation, as well as devise a cycle of tissue-promoting vs tissue-discouraging that may provide just the right balance of healing required.

Now for reducing scarring. This is a frustrating issue in horses and people alike, as some individuals just seem to scar more than others. When it comes to horses however, a skin scar usually means the hair doesn’t grow back in that area or it grows back white, two unacceptable scenarios especially for people who compete with their horse. While you should definitely voice this second concern to your veterinarian (who may be more focused on healing the wound instead of making it look nice, and rightly so), my advice is to keep the area as moist as possible once new skin has formed over the wound. I like your use of Vitamin E, and notice that human scarring formulas also contain Aloe Vera. Products containing Tea Tree Oil seem to work best in my horses. I think one of the most important things you can do to prevent scars though, is protect this new, vulnerable skin from sun damage. I gave some advice last year to a person whose white-faced chestnut horse suffered from sun burn, so I encourage you to read that post.

Lydia F. Gray, DVM MA, currently serves as the Medical Director/Staff Veterinarian for SmartPak Equine. Prior to joining SmartPak, Dr. Gray served as the first-ever Director of Owner Education for the American Association of Equine Practitioners. She has authored numerous articles in publications such as The Horse, Horse Illustrated, Western Horseman and a variety of veterinary journals and magazines. Dr. Gray is also a frequent speaker at horse expos, veterinary conventions and other locations. After graduating with honors from the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine and receiving her Master's Degree in Interpersonal and Organizational Communication, she practiced at the Tremont Veterinary Clinic for several years. Dr Gray is active in the American Veterinary Medical Association and Illinois State Veterinary Medical Association and enjoys training and showing her trakehner Newman in her spare time.  Find Dr. Gray on Google+

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