Written by: Equine Veterinary Journal

Q: I have heard recently that maggots can help heal horse wounds. Is this true?

Thumbnail for Health Q&A: Maggots for Horse Wounds

A new study published in the Equine Veterinary Journal’s American Association of Equine Practitioners (AAEP) supplement recently suggests that they can. Maggots have been used for the treatment of wounds for hundreds of years, and can play an integral role in modern veterinary care for a variety of wounds in horses.

The study assessed the efficacy of maggot debridement therapy in 41 horses with a range of lesions including foot injury, limb laceration, soft tissue abscesses and musculoskeletal infection. Depending on the type, size and location of the wound, the maggots were applied either in direct or indirect contact. Debridement, disinfection and healing occurred in all but three cases (93% effectiveness) in less than a week.

Freshly emerged, germ-free larvae of the common green bottle fly are generally used. Their wound-healing action is attributed to a debridement effect, an antiseptic effect, a direct effect on cytokine and cell proliferation involved in wound healing and breakdown of biofilm formation. Maggots also digest and destroy bacteria which may be beneficial in the fight against drug-resistant bacteria such as MRSA.

Olivier Lepage of the University of Lyon, who led the study, concluded, “These results show that maggot debridement therapy potentially has an integral place in modern veterinary wound care. It can be used to treat many types of lesions, although not those involving tumours or bone sequestration. Associated high costs present a limiting factor, but maggot debridement therapy should certainly be considered for lesions that fail to respond to conventional methods.”

Professor Celia Marr, editor of the EVJ, said “Although at first glance this study might seem counter-intuitive and we might think of maggots as being the last thing one would want on a clean wound, it shows that maggots can be an effective way to clear damaged tissue and this is an important adjunctive approach in equine wound management.”