I discovered that my draft horse has scratches tonight. I’ve been reading about different treatments, but thought I should ask around (you, my vet) about the best treatment before starting something. I have also read that you should clip the area short and keep it clean & dry during the healing time. Thank you! LH, Illinois
My answer to you is–absolutely talk to your vet, because you don’t want to be weeks or months into treatment, have the condition get worse, then try to bring your vet on board. He or she will probably be a little irritated! Hopefully the information and advice you’re given sounds a bit like this:
Scratches isn’t so much a bacterial or fungal infection from one organism, it’s wet/dry cycles causing the skin on the back of the pastern to chap (much like your own hands or lips). Then various microorganisms that are already in the environment or on your horse’s skin take advantage of these tiny cracks to invade and multiply, leading to redness, pain, swelling and even oozy discharge that crusts over.
You’re right, the first thing you should do is remove any long hair that’s in the way (which is a shame in a draft horse). Sometimes scissors can get the job done, sometimes clippers are needed, and sometimes the hair must be shaved down to the skin to allow healing.
Next is removing scabs and dirt. This can be tricky. Some veterinarians recommend soaking the pasterns JUST THIS ONE TIME so you can soften the crusts and gently remove them. But don’t soak anymore or you’re duplicating the very environment that created this problem. Your goal throughout all this treatment is to be as gentle to the skin as possible–remember, it’s already injured. So if you use soap, use the mildest you can find, like Ivory, or VERY dilute chlorhexidene (Nolvasan) or iodine (Betadine). There’s even a new silver-based wash that may be just the thing for scratches.
Carefully pat the area dry. Now the question is: what should you put on it? Well, we’re trying to accomplish three things: 1) kill any bacteria or fungi present; 2) reduce redness, pain and swelling; and 3) provide a protective barrier to further chapping. Here’s where you just have to experiment, because scratches responds to different things on different horses. Hey, if there was one thing that always worked for every horse, then there wouldn’t be 20 gazillion different products and homemade recipes!
The newest topicals for scratches (ie old-fashioned remedies that have become popular again) contain silver and tea tree oil. My favorite though is ichthammol, because it does all three things listed above. I also like Fura-Zone for the same reason. Some people mix up their own antibiotic ointments with antifungals with anti-inflammatories; your vet may do this for you. Panalog is a brand name that has all these components already. The important thing is to stop using this type of product once the infection and swelling have gone away because they inhibit skin healing, the next step in the healing process. At this point, you may just want to use Desitin (that’s right, good ol’ diaper rash ointment) or Vaseline or something else with no active ingredients, just a gentle barrier to further chapping.
To wrap or not to wrap, that is the final question. I’ve done it both ways and tend to lean towards no, although you may want to the first day or two after you’ve cleaned it really well and it’s just on its way to healing properly.
I hope I haven’t depressed you, scratches aren’t life-threatening but they can be very frustrating to deal with. Be patient (and gentle!)