Do you have hibiscrub as part of your horse first aid kit? The vast majority of horse owners have a bottle of hibiscrub in their horse first aid kits. It has been routinely used to clean wounds for many years, however several leading vets are now suggesting that hibiscrub is not the best product for cleaning wounds, and here is why. We discuss this on our Horse First Aid Course and it is often a surprise to owners that we don’t recommend that it is used to clean wounds. You are better to keep the hibiscrub for washing your own hands with, and perhaps use it for very dirty wounds on the advise of your vet.
Hibiscrub is too strong
It is designed for surgeons to prepare themselves (and their patients) for surgery, and it is widely used in both equine and human hospitals. It kills literally everything, which is ideal for surgery, but not at all necessary for a regular wound. Ask a veterinary nurse, or a surgeon about hibiscrub and they will probably tell you how sore it makes their hands from repeated use. Hibiscrub will kill the good cells as well as the dirt, muck and other rubbish that you’re trying to clean out of a wound. As a result hibiscrub doesn’t promote the best healing environment, and research shows that cleaning a wound daily with hibiscrub will actually delay healing. Our vets have often detailed cases of ‘hibiscrub mud fever’, whereby pastern dermatitis is induced in a horses lower legs as a result of an owner cleaning it daily with hibiscrub, thinking that this could prevent mud fever. Mud fever is a difficult condition to manage, and best results are found when horses are removed from the mud and the dermatitis is allowed to heal.
Most owners don’t use it correctly
Hibiscrub should only be used on very heavily contaminated wounds, but many owners don’t use it correctly. It should be be very very diluted, at least 1:20 dilution but most owners use it too concentrated, and a capful in a bucket of water would be sufficient. Hibiscrub is a bright pink colour, but when added to water in the correct dilution it should barely change the colour of the water. Many owners use hibiscrub ‘neat’ (not at all recommended), thinking that more is best. Hibiscrub is designed to work on contact time, not ‘scrubbability’. It should be left on for a minimum of 2 minutes, this is much better than scrubbing away at the wound, which will cause further cellular damage. As well as being well diluted hibiscrub should also be rinsed off, something that owners are often unaware of.
What should you use to clean wounds with?
Saline solution is the best product to clean most wounds with, and hibiscrub is best left for very dirty wounds, or to be used on the advice of your vet. You can use a pre-prepared saline solution, or make up your own using a teaspoon of salt in a pint of cooled boiled water. We recommend that you keep some saline solution (or at least salt) in your Horse First Aid Kit, and don’t forget a clean bucket or bowl for wound cleaning. Gauze swabs are a much better choice for cleaning wounds than cotton wool, as no residue is left in the wound.
So if you have some hibiscrub in your horse first aid kit why not move it to the back of the cupboard, and keep saline solution for the majority of cuts and small wounds that your horse picks up. If you are in any doubt about any cut or injury on your horse you must seek guidance from your vet.
Can I ever use Hibiscrub?
Yes Hibiscrub does have a place, it is useful for washing your own hands (let’s be honest the yard isn’t the cleanest of places, and whilst disposal gloves are a great addition to your horse first aid kit we don’t always have these to hand. Hibiscrub is suitable for some wounds, but not for the basic wound that owners should be treating on their own. Our recommendation is to stick to saline solution, and keep Hibiscrub for use under the guidance of your vet to be on the safe side.
Want to know more about what to have in your Horse First Aid Kit, you can sign up for our Horse First Aid Checklist here