Aseptic skin preparation—the act of cleaning an area of the horse’s body to remove dirt and microorganisms—is extremely important for veterinary procedures ranging from simple catheter insertions to complex surgeries. The veterinarian or tech performs the skin prep prior to the procedure to help prevent infection.

Traditionally, most practitioners have scrubbed the skin to prep it. New paint-on products that don’t requiring scrubbing, however, are gaining in popularity because they are less labor-intensive and time-consuming. But is this passive skin prep technique as effective?

Benjamin Davids, BS, a student at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine, in Gainesville, led a study to find out if scrubbing is necessary during aseptic skin prep or if contact time with the skin is sufficient. He presented his findings at the 2016 American Association of Equine Practitioners’ Convention, held Dec. 3-7 in Orlando, Florida.

In his study, Davids and his team compared the efficacy and cost of using a passive (no scrubbing) paint-on preparation to that of an active scrub preparation. Both were chlorhexidine gluconate 4% solutions (CG), a widely used and proven antiseptic.

He applied both treatments—one on each thigh—to 30 adult Thoroughbreds. Prior to treatment he clipped, rinsed, and sampled the skin for bacteria culture. For the active prep, Davids scrubbed in large concentric circles for 75 seconds, wiped the area with sterile saline for 25 seconds, and repeated this process twice. For the passive prep, he applied CG to the area, let it sit for 255 seconds, then wiped it off with sterile saline. He then sampled the skin again for bacteria culture and performed a PCR (a test for pathogen DNA) on all isolates.

“The active and passive preparations significantly reduced surface bacteria compared with samples taken from unprepared skin,” Davids said. “No difference in the number of skin-associated bacteria was detected between the techniques.”

As for price, the active prep cost $7.26 per horse and the passive prep cost $2.34—a 67.8% cost-savings. The passive technique also freed up the veterinarian or tech to set up for the procedure or complete other tasks, he said.

Overall, passive skin prep requires less time, fewer supplies, and less money, said Davids.