Signs Of Wound Infection In Horses [+Treatment & Prevention]

Many of us horse owners are all too familiar with that moment when bringing our horses in from the pasture, that something has gone awry while we were away. It could be something as simple as bite marks from a tiff with his pasture buddy, or something more serious, like a gash or scrape from a jagged fencepost.

Regardless of how your horse got a wound, the good news is that the equine body is resilient and well-equipped to heal quickly.

However, if it doesn’t seem to be healing right away, there is always a root cause. One of the primary reasons for delayed healing is infection.

Infection is simply a result of germs in your horse’s body, and can cause more serious issues if not addressed.

Today we’re going to cover how to prevent and identify infection so that your horse can get back to the path of healing as quickly as possible. 

What To Do When Your Horse Gets Injured

how to treat an open wound on a horse

When your horse is injured, the best first step is to clean the wound and consult your veterinarian. Some injuries are very clearly superficial and do not require a lot of attention at all in order to heal.

But not all equine wounds are the same. Certain wounds, like puncture wounds, can be deadly if not properly addressed.

Therefore, it is important to contact your vet if you have any questions about the severity of your horse’s injury or the next best steps of wound care.

Your vet is best positioned to tell you how to treat an open wound on a horse.

However, there are some common practices when it comes to mild cuts and scrapes on your horse. The following tips for wound care are a good place to start: 

  1. Clean: The first step to wound care is to clean it properly. The most important part of cleaning is removing dirt and debris from the injury site, as its presence can easily hinder the healing process. Cold water and saline solution are two great options for flushing out the injury.
  2. Treat: The second step is to flush it with a dilute antiseptic wash, like Betadine or Nolvasan, and then gel or ointment to the injury site. Water-based wound gels are better than greasy ointments when the injury is fresh. This will help not only prevent infection but also promote healing.
  3. Bandage: Bandages are optimal for horses with leg injuries. Use non-stick gauze and replace daily so that the wound stays clean as it heals. Replace the bandages more often if the wound drainage seems to be soaking through the gauze faster. Body injuries don’t often require bandages unless your vet recommends otherwise, as they tend to stay cleaner.
  4. Monitor: Make sure your horse doesn’t move so much that they end up reopening a healing injury. Too much motion can keep the tissues in the wound from healing as quickly as it can. Also be sure to check the wound every day for signs of infection, proud flesh, and any other abnormalities.

Signs Of Wound Infection In Horses

horse wound care

Given that you have initially cleaned the wound and applied routine bandages, the only thing you need to do is keep an eye on the wound to make sure it continues to heal.

The amount of time that you’ll need to watch the wound will depend on the severity of the injury. Superficial scrapes will heal a lot faster than a deep gash or puncture wound.

While infection may seem elusive at first (not all signs are visible), the following is a checklist of potential signs to look for as your horse’s injury heals.

If, during the healing period, you observe any of the following signs, call your vet to follow up on the injury.

  1. Swelling: While it is perfectly normal to see swelling right after the injury takes place, that swelling should go down within a few days. If the swelling remains the same after a few days, or gets worse at all, this could be your horse’s body’s way of fighting off a budding infection.
  2. Heat: Abnormal heat is a non-visual way of determining that your horse might have an infection. If the wound or surrounding skin seem excessively warm, it may be a sign that an infection is present. An easy way to check if your horse is emitting extra heat is to feel the same spot on the opposite side of his body for comparison. 
  3. Color of Discharge: While discharge from the wound is natural during the healing process, healthy discharge should always be clear or milky-colored. If you see any yellow or bright green pus drain from the wound, this means that bacteria and inflammatory cells are present. 
  4. Odor: Any odd odor whatsoever can be a cause for concern during the healing process. A sweet odor, in particular, is a good indicator of dead tissue, meaning infection is further harming the injury when the tissue should be regenerating. 
  5. Skin Color: While watching your horse’s wound, make sure to double check the surrounding skin. Redness of the skin, especially red streaks radiating outward from the injury, is certainly an indicator that an infection is present. 
  6. Tenderness: Of course, when your horse first gets injured, the wound will be pretty tender. However, if the wound or surrounding tissue becomes more tender to the touch, or remains tender after a few days, this could be an indicator of infection. Tenderness indicates a delay in healing, and should be reason to contact your veterinarian.

What To Do If Your Horse’s Wound Is Infected

What To Do If Your Horse’s Wound Is Infected

Should you discover one or multiple signs of infection, the first best step is to contact your veterinarian right away.

Your vet will be able to give you the best course of action, which may range from prescription antibiotics, over-the-counter equine ointments or antiseptics (e.g. Vetericyn that is very popular amongst horse owners), a stricter cleaning and draining regimen, or stints to prevent your horse from disrupting the wound site with too much movement.

The beautiful thing about the equine body is that it is prone to healing. Once the infection is under control, your horse’s body will be able to resume the speedy healing process to the wound site.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do all wounds need to be bandaged?

Very often wounds that seem to be quite severe will actually do better with thorough flushing with clean water and liberal application of the wound spray, Vetericyn. If your horse has a severe wound, he or she should be seen by your vet, but don’t be surprised if your vet leaves you with instructions to hose the wound thoroughly with running water for 15 minutes a day and apply a generous amount of Vetericyn.

2. Do you have to change a horse’s bandages every day?

Generally speaking, if a wound needs to be bandaged, the bandages should be changed and the wound cleaned daily until the healing process begins and the wound is no longer seeping.

3. How long will it take for my horse’s wound to heal?

This is a very subjective question. The length of time it takes for a wound to heal depends a great deal on the size, severity and location of the wound. Generally speaking, with prompt and correct care, you can expect a fairly serious wound to heal within 2-4 weeks.

4. How do you know if the wound is not healing correctly?

If you are not seeing significant improvement after five days have passed. You have cause for concern. Redness, swelling, heat and foul discharge are all signs of infection and improper healing.

5. What does a horse’s wound look like while it is healing correctly?

You are likely to see pinkish-red granulation tissue (scab tissue) developing. This fragile tissue holds the edges of the wound together and seals off the skin beneath as new cells grow.



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