Mention poultices to non-horsey friends and they may wonder if you’re living in the Middle Ages. Certainly poultices have been around that long, but they?re still useful for our horses. In fact, they may be one of the simplest, effective under-utilized tools in your tack room.
WHAT?S A POULTICE’ The word poultice comes from Latin for a thick porridge. Wheat bran is actually still used in some home recipes for poultices. More typical ingredients these days are clays such as kaolin.
Poultices can provide cooling, warmth and draw out fluids from an area. Depending on your horse’s needs, you can adjust the ingredients and how you apply a poultice to fit one of these? requirements.
You can apply a cold-type poultice to a fresh injury or inflamed area on your horse’s legs. A poultice can also be used as a preventive measure on a horse who is prone to mild inflammation after work.
A cold poultice will draw heat from the injury, reduce blood flow and ideally minimize inflammation and any swelling. This is similar to ?icing? an injured area, but a poultice can provide hours of therapy. Because it reduces inflammation and swelling, a cold poultice may also provide some pain comfort, but that isn?t generally a primary purpose of a poultice.
Most horsemen prefer to apply a poultice and then wrap the leg so the poultice can work its magic without a person being there nonstop. However, a wrap can cause the area to heat up, so it is best to keep a moistened section of brown paper between the poultice and the wrap. That will keep the poultice and the area moist and cool for a longer period of time.
For an old injury, a heat-inducing poultice might be better. In this case, you want to create heat and encourage blood flow to the area of concern. This type of poultice can help with arthritis or to ?draw out? an abscess. To retain warmth, you apply the poultice and then put cellophane between the poultice and the wrap.
A poultice can also be applied to any bite or sting, as the cool poultice will go a long way toward making him more comfortable.
APPLICATION. For a hoof, you can simply put the poultice in a hoof boot. This can help with an abscess that needs to be drawn out so it will open and drain. You may need to apply poultice to the coronary band separately.
If you don’t have a hoof boot, a disposable diaper is fairly sturdy and waterproof and will hold moisture or heat in. You can make it into a homemade hoof boot by using duct tape. Or, use a roll of cotton, covered with Vetrap or another elastic bandage with duct tape over the main wear points, such as the toe.
It takes a little practice, but doing a poultice on your horse’s leg or a joint isn?t difficult. You’ll need the poultice, brown paper (or plastic or a feedbag), an inner quilt or cotton and the outer standing bandage.
First wet the horse’s leg and your hands (if your hands are wet the poultice won?t stick and build up as much; you can even use mineral oil or petroleum jelly on your hands).
Keep a small bucket of water close by and wet your hands frequently while applying the poultice. The water makes it easier to mold on the leg and apply evenly. The layer of poultice should be around a half inch thick. Cover with the paper/plastic, apply the cotton bandage and wrap.
REMOVAL. As the poultice begins to dry, fluids are wicked from the tissue underneath into the clay. The moist clay is also cooling to the skin surface, and heat from the tissues will equilibrate with the cool temperature of the clay. As the poultice water evaporates, much of the heat goes with it. Ideally a poultice should be removed before it totally dries or right after it dries. You can brush it off or, if not totally dry, you may need to use a hose and/or a soft dish scrubber.
CHOICES. Before using any poultice look at the ingredients. While mud alone can act as a poultice, most horsemen prefer something cleaner. A homemade poultice of wheat bran or oatmeal and Epsom salts could be used frequently for minor problems. Kaopectate, sugar and baking soda are all used in some homemade recipes. Many horsemen develop favorites using herbs such as comfrey root, chamomile or peppermint leaves.See poultice sidebar on poultice types and product recommendations.
DMSO is often included in many poultices. it’s important to remember that DMSO acts as a ?carrier? and will transport substances through the skin and into your horse. This can be a handy way to get medications where they?re needed, but it can also be unnecessary for a minor injury.
Counter-irritants like DMSO and liniments will cause an area to heat up. Care should be taken that this type of poultice isn?t left on longer than 24 hours. It also shouldn?t be used on areas with open wounds.
While you may use a non-medicated poultice frequently, even daily during times of hard work, competition or travel for your horse, medicated poultices should only be used when necessary.
BOTTOM LINE. Some horses do best after daily workouts with a short-term cool poultice. Others seem to respond best to a heat-inducing poultice. For certain injuries, your veterinarian may recommend a cool poultice initially followed by a warm one a couple of days later. Alternating cool and warm poultices works well for many horses.
Our top choice for a poultice is Sore No-More poultice. it’s versatile enough and only mildly medicated, so you should be able to use it for nearly all your poulticing needs.? (In case you wondered, old standby Antiphlogistine has been discontinued from manufacturing.)
Article by Contributing Veterinary Editor Deb Eldrdge DVM.