It can be hard to know when a horse’s wound is best served with a bandage versus being left open to the air. Bandaging a wound has advantages and disadvantages. Here are some tips that might help you decide. As always, if you have questions, ask your veterinarian.
To heal quickly, most cuts and abrasions need nothing more than to remain clean and free of irritation. When bandages promote these conditions, they are the preferred choice. The quick-growing replacement skin that forms under a horse’s bandage is fragile and might need to be treated with greater care than the slower-growing tissue that fills wounds left exposed to the air. In some circumstances, a bandage’s pressure and friction can actually prolong healing. Add in the expense of the materials and the requisite caretaking efforts, and you’ll see that unnecessary bandaging benefits neither horse nor owner.
In deciding whether to bandage a wound, location and depth are the key considerations:
Leave high wounds uncovered; put low wounds under wraps. Uncontaminated wounds above the elbow and stifle are likely to scab over and heal well on their own. This rapid response is a function of the relative immobility of the horse’s torso and the superior circulation at or above the heart level. In contrast, lower-leg wounds are often irritated by dirt, motion and abrasion. The high capillary pressure in the legs, resulting from their location below the heart, promotes the formation of proud flesh, an excessive growth of granulation tissue that won’t heal over. Carefully applied bandages are often beneficial for wounds at or below the knees or hocks.
Leave shallow wounds unbandaged; keep “full-thickness” wounds covered. Once they’re thoroughly cleaned, superficial scrapes and abrasions are left open to the air, as they form strong scabs almost immediately. A full-thickness wound–one that penetrates all skin layers so that the edges separate or can be pulled apart to reveal underlying structures–does not form a strong scab and can invite deep infection if left exposed. For wounds that require stitching, ask the attending veterinarian about bandaging recommendations.
In general, simple wounds above the knee and hock do just fine without bandages, while most full-thickness wounds heal better with bandages. New skin formed under bandages may require surface ointments or a loose covering until it toughens up enough to face the elements.