It’s nice to get a break from insects pestering wounds but winter weather brings its own set of special considerations.
The cold, dry air in winter leads to a major cause of delayed healing – dehydration of exposed tissue. A moist environment is important for cells to migrate across the wound and for white cells to do their work cleaning it up. Suturing wounds that warrant it, and keeping other wounds covered with a protective salve, will guard against dehydration.
Herbal salves are ideal for wounds in winter.
The cold itself can also be a problem because blood flow is decreased to the skin in cold weather. Inflammation helps counteract it in the early stages of healing but once that calms down, in 3 to 5 days, blood flow is not as good as in warmer weather. This slows healing by inhibiting cell migration and can also mean the difference between death or survival of areas of skin that have a damaged blood supply from the injury.
Because of the detrimental effects of cold, dry weather, wounds need more protection. Even small skin breaks in areas with a lot of movement, like the heels and pasterns, can quickly become painfully deep cracks. Keep an eye out for wounds on your small animals too and regularly check their paws for cracking.
Good choices for holding in moisture on wounds are ointments and salves without a water base. Look for petrolatum, beeswax and oils. Help with temporary irritation and discomfort comes from ingredients like Arnica, Chamomile, Comfrey, Calendula, Witch Hazel, Plantain, White Willow Bark, Golden Seal and Vitamin E. Natural ingredients with antiseptic advantages include Tea Tree Oil, Oregon Grape, Echinacea, Gentian, Sodium Copper Chlorophyllin and all essential oils. Protect delicate new skin with the antioxidant benefits of Chaparral, Burdock and St. John’s Wort.
For wounds on the lower legs, apply a generous amount of salve after cleaning gently with warm water then cover with several layers of gauze (never use cotton on open wounds) and a standing leg wrap over that. To avoid having your gauze slide down inside the wrap, use a dab of your wound dressing to hold the gauze layers together and also to hold it where you want it inside your leg cotton wrap, then apply the wrap as usual. Check and rebandage once a day for the first few days, or until drainage has stopped.
Tip: For ease of use and your horse’s comfort, do not store wound products in the cold – including in tack trunks. Keep them in a heated room and when working on your horse place them inside your clothes as close to your body as possible until you are ready to use them.
On the nutritional end, there are two very common winter deficiencies that can interfere with wound healing – vitamin A and zinc. Zinc is the #1 mineral deficiency in forages. Vitamin A is abundant in fresh pasture but levels decline after drying and storage. Consult your veterinarian or nutritionist for supplementation guidelines for your situation but commonly used amounts are 20,000 to 40,000 IU of vitamin A and 250 to 450 mg of zinc.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD