Wound healing – scars and white hair on horses
Why do some horse wounds heal differently? Some wounds disappear, some wounds scar, and some grow back with white hair instead of your horse’s “regular” color. There’s a bit of science and anatomy that determines scars and white hairs on horses because of wounds!
The stages of wound healing in horses:
- Wounds heal in a few stages. Inflammation, then debridement, then granulation, then maturation.
During the inflammation stage of wound healing, all of these things happen:
- When a wound first occurs, the area swells as blood and platelets rush to the area to start the healing process.
- There’s heat, swelling, and sometimes pain.
Then it’s the debridement stage of wound healing:
- White blood cells start to enter the area to clean out any bacterial invaders. Sometimes this process gets out of hand and leads to infection, the resulting dead bacteria and white blood cells make pus. (GAG)
- The debridement stage also starts epithelialization, which is when new skin cells start to cover the wound. This happens about four times as fast on your horse’s legs than his body.
This is a nicely healing wound, showing some granulation tissue! Thanks to Mickensey for the photo!
Next, it’s the repair stage of wound healing:
- During this time, cells called fibroblasts fill the wound. Their congregation in the wound leads to the formation of granulation tissue, which allows the skin cells to form over it.
- Ever heard of proud flesh? That’s granulation tissue that’s gotten out of hand. Like REALLY out of hand. The granulation tissues goes bonkers and starts to jut out away from your horse. There’s no way that skin can cover that hot mess!
The maturation phase of wound healing is next, and can sometimes take the longest:
- This is a long phase (usually) and is when the skin starts to return back to normal.
How are scars formed?
- Scars are formed after the healing process. If the dermis layer of skin is damaged, a scar will form. The dermis is the deepest layer of skin and the collagen that your body forms in a wound becomes the scar tissue. It’s not going to be the same texture as the surrounding tissue, and it won’t be as strong as the original tissue.
- The size of a wound and the length of healing time influence scarring. Big wounds and wounds that have longer healing times are more likely to scar. On a horse, the location of the wound also contributes to scarring. Wounds on a horse’s legs often scar much more than a wound on a horse’s torso.
Are all scars hairless?
- Nope! Some horse wounds will scar and grow some hair back. Some scars remain hairless. It boils down to how much damage happened to the hair follicles in the skin. Lots of damage means the hair is probably not coming back.
- Hair follicles occur at different layers in the skin, so it depends on what’s damaged. You may have a scar where some of the hair grows back, but it might be thinner or have a different texture.
What causes white hairs to form over horse wounds?
- There are cells in your horse’s skin that produce pigment as your horse’s hair grows. These production cells, as they are called, are responsible for the color of your horse’s coat. They are also delicate and love to get damaged. After damage, you might have a wound where the hair grows back, but the pigment doesn’t, which gives your horse a white patch. Scars and white hairs on horses are linked to what type of cells are damaged.
- Fun fact about white hairs on your horse – you might not ever see an open wound. Pressure from ill-fitting saddles commonly creates permanent white patches of hair.
- This phenomenon can also be seen in a freeze brand. These brands only target the pigment-producing cells, and the hair changes color.
What can you do to minimize scarring on your horse?
- If a wound needs stitches, and gets stitches, the scarring will be less than a similar wound without stitches. It’s always a good idea to have your vet take a look at any wound to determine the need for stitches.
This scar is from a surgical procedure and is quite minimal.
- A wound that is stitched closed will still have a scar, but it’s usually much smaller and sometimes only at the microscopic level.
- Not all wounds can be sutured, there may not be enough flesh to bring together, or the wound is deep and needs to drain, or the wound needs to be surgically debrided. In cases like this, suturing the wound might happen at a later stage, or not at all. It really depends on the individual wound.
What factors go into the formation of scar tissue?
- A few things, besides the wound location and if it’s sutured or not.
- How much movement happens around the wound? Wounds over joints and legs often take longer to heal and might break open as the skin stretches when the joints move.
- How clean is the wound? Horse wounds that end up contaminated with bacteria, dirt, shavings, etc. will take longer to heal and increase the chance of infection and scarring.
- Proud flesh. When some wounds go nuts with the granulation tissue, proud flesh develops. This really vascular tissue gets out of hand, and the new skin can’t connect to the other side to fully heal. Proud flesh is a huge problem in and of itself and needs to get under control with the help of your vet long before you deal with scarring.
Keep things clean and covered. Or keep things clean and uncovered. Depends on the stage of healing.
How to prevent some scars and white hair on horses
- There is no magic formula to preventing scars, but you can do a few things to help your horse heal with minimal scarring.
- Your vet can totally tell you if something needs sutures, a prescription ointment, or specialized bandaging.
- Keep things clean! You don’t want to clean a wound so much that it gets irritated, but you need to keep contaminants out of it.
- Flushing with saline is a good idea, using alcohol, peroxide or bleach is most definitely not. These substances, along with petroleum-based ointments and copper sulfates make wounds worse and can increase proud flesh.
- Keep a wound moist! It will crack when it becomes dry and scabby. The easiest way to do this is to use a vet-approved ointment once or twice or more a day.
- Wounds may do better if they are covered. This is key for most leg wounds, as they fill with footing, dirt, shavings, etc. easily. Standing wraps, cotton bandages, Vet Wrap, Elastikon, and even bandages taped on can help with this.
- Also, wounds may do better if they are uncovered. It really depends on the stage of wound healing. Fresh wounds or even wounds a few days old are usually better when they can be covered. After that, some fresh air might be better. When in doubt – just ask your vet!
Spray pigments are safe and cover blemishes. If you like.
What you can do to cover scars and white patches:
- Scars and white patches can be just part of your horse’s jewelry collection, but you might have a need to cover them up. Many show horses can be touched up with pigments so that scars are hidden for competitions.
- Check with your governing body to double-check if scars can be covered. The rules vary from one organization to another.
If you want to pick up some scar covering spray for scars and white hair on horses, I like the Show Touch Up below. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases, but no worries – you aren’t charged extra. I truly appreciate your support! Thanks!
Shapley’s Show Touch Up – Pick Your Color – for white chrome and covering scars.
Sox for Horses – for any skin funk, fly problems, summer sores, stomping, and protection from UV light.
My favorite all-purpose first aid ointment to have around
ADC Veterinary Thermometer, Dual Scale, Adtemp 422 – For easy temperature taking
Perri’s Standing Bandages, Pack of 4 – so many colors to choose from
Yet another style of quilt
The best Elastikon tape – so sticky!