Veterinary Superstition

On the topic of superstition, more often than not I hear the same preface. “I’m not a superstitious person, but…” shortly before someone shares the exception to their “not superstitious” rule. It seems as though almost everyone has a little susperstition tucked away in their corner. That said, I’m not a superstitious person, but I’ve got a couple exceptions of my own.

Unfounded, but Strictly Upheld Superstition

Bad Juju & Bandaging

Vet Wrap

If you’re around horses long enough, it’s only a matter of time before you encounter Vet Wrap. Vet Wrap, a 3M product, is one of the most common bandage supplies you’ll come across. As the material is wrapped, the layers “bond” together. The molding of these layers provides support, conformity and reduces the amount of bandage “slippage” that inevitably occurs. If you’ve wrapped horses’ legs, you know what I’m talking about. When learning to wrap legs, we all experience the frustration of bandages slipping down the leg. I use this material multiple times a day on a daily basis, as it is a key ingredient my bandage recipes. These bandages are often times covering a wound or serving as a temporary compression wrap to reduce swelling.

It’s all in the color

Personally (err..professionally?), this is my most agregious superstition. It’s not the bandage material itself that is the cause for concern; it is the color. Red. I was introduced to this superstition during my vet school days. During a bandaging lab, one of our residents was passing out supplies to the groups of students. As he was in the midst of handing a roll out, he glanced at the roll and cast it away as if the Vet Wrap had become a poisonous snake in his hand. It was only seconds before he dutifully marched the Vet Wrap over to the garbage bin.

“Any color but red. Red is bad juju.”

The widespread practice of this belief was made apparent by the not uncommon sighting of unopened red rolls of vet wrap lying in garbage cans. You’d occasionally pass by treatment areas where small piles of the forbidden red rolls were accumulating. No one ever brought it up as seemed an unquestionable part of the hospital culture.

Superstition to Life

The origin of the superstition was explained to us the only time I ever saw it used on a patient’s bandage. A dachsund was hospitalized for upcoming back surgery, and had arrived with substantial wounds on all four feet (from dragging his paws on the ground). His feet were bandaged with red vetwrap. The following morning, to everyone’s horror, the dog had chewed off all of his toes overnight. He had managed to self-amputate his digits while doing very little obvious damage to the bandages, and the blood had been concealed by the color of the vetwrap.

The original reason for avoiding the use of red is logical, since it can conceal otherwise obvious hemorrhage or “strike through” on bandages. The tragic and disturbing circumstances surrounding the patient’s self-mutilating only reinforced the validity of the superstition.

Not all vets share this superstitious belief, including the associates at my practice. We occasionally get red vet wrap in our shipments, and a roll has never made its way onto my vet truck. Although I understand the ridiculousness of this superstition (I really do, trust me) surrounding a color of bandage material, I have a little confession of my own.

Somewhere in the depths of our building’s inventory supply and storage, there is a little pile of red vet wrap secretly tucked away. Just in case.

By MorganDVM

After graduating from vet school in 2015 and completing a year long equine internship, I entered private practice as an equine ambulatory veterinarian. Like most people in the veterinary field, I have respect and compassion towards all species, with a passion for horses. My work-life balance includes roadtripping, hiking, succulents, aquariums and is made complete by my wonderful pets.

8 replies on “Veterinary Superstition”

One of my techs went to use red on a euthanasia catheter. She was told “No!” Never red! I had never heard that in all my years of medicine, but this dr in particular did not want red.
It was never explained, but your explanation makes sense.

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I worked around horses 18 years & if I saw red I would immediately think BLOOD. also back in the 60s the leg bandages were all this sort-of-stretchy-cotton stuff & had strings at one end. you always had to wash & dry them after use & roll up. better roll ’em the correct way or the strings would be at the wrong end!

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I’m in the human medicine world and use Coban (the human form that’s twice as much for no reason except it is for humans) and try to avoid red myself. Mostly it is so the patient doesn’t freak out and call me at 2 am thinking they are bleeding when it is just a bit of drainage.

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