The stages of wound healing in horses.


If there’s one thing I know about horses, they can, and will, hurt themselves. Some more than others. But making sure the wound heals nicely takes time, observation, and diligent care on your part. Knowing a bit about wound healing can help determine if things are on track.


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The stages of wound healing are:


The angry swelling stage. This is also known as “inflammation”, and happens to all wounds, large and small.


  • There are lots of things that go on here. There’s a retraction of the skin. The blood flow to the area will also constrict and dilate during this process. Vital blood components like fibrin and platelets come to the wound. There will also be an influx of white blood cells that clean things out and activate the fibrin to start to clot.


  • The inflammation of the angry swelling stage hurts. There will be heat, swelling, pain, and redness. Even if you can’t see or feel those things, it’s happening on some level.


  • Many wounds benefit from therapies like medications and ice to help reduce inflammation and pain.


fresh wound on horse leg

Fresh and swollen! Courtesy of Lauren B.


Taking out the trash stage of wound healing. Stage 2 is the debridement stage – when the wound gets cleaned out and dead tissue removed.


  • While this is a totally natural process, your horse can get in his own way here. As neutrophils, a type of white blood cell, land in the area, they will eat any bacteria. But, they can be overwhelmed and create pus which ultimately slows healing.


  • Another part of this phase is called epithelialization, where new skin cells move to cover the wound. Of course, horses are totally weird, and on their bodies, this process moves at about .2 mm a day. On legs, the epithelialization can move less than .1 mm a day.


Fixing things! Moving on to the third stage, finally, things are starting to get back to normal. Or, the repair stage.


  • This happens at about 4-5 days after the wound occurs. Here, the fibroblasts are filling the wound. They seek each other out like they are at a giant party. This lets granulation tissue start to form, which provides a structure for the skin cells to move over.


  • Too much granulation tissue is proud flesh, which doesn’t allow the skin cells to move over the wound.


granulation tissue on horse wound

Granulation tissue is full of vessels! Courtesy of Mickensey J.


The final stage of a horse’s wound healing is the graduation stage – it’s growing up! Technically the maturation phase.


  • Here the skin starts to return to normal. This can go on for months and months! Delays to healing include the aforementioned pus, too many bandage changes that disrupt things, a wound drying out, and proud flesh. Keep your vet in the loop!


healing horse wound on fetlock

Almost done. Courtesy of Bree L.


Tidbits about horse wounds


  • Here are a few things to think about with horse wounds. The smallest wound and the largest wound will both go through the same process.


  • Because horses like to throw kinks into our plans, you should always consult your Vet with any wound.


  • Some wounds need stitches, some need to remain open and draining, and some need surgery to promote healing.


  • Also, be careful about what type of topical goop or spray you use. It’s not always ideal to dry things out with a colorful spray. Your vet can help you figure out the best combo of bandages, wraps, and meds.


  • Ensure your horse’s vet kit is stocked with clippers, bandages, and non-stick pads at the bare minimum.



collage of wound healing stages

All of the stages! Courtesy of Tish T.


How to clean a small wound.


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