Despite all of your efforts, your horse comes in with a small laceration on his side. It’s small but appears deep, and after consulting with your veterinarian, they decide your four-legged friend doesn’t need stitches. You ask them about bandaging, antibiotics, and potential complications. They tell you to keep the area clean and watch for signs of infection.
But what are the signs of infection? And how do you keep them at bay?
Signs of Infection in Your Horse’s Wound
What to Watch For
Though most cuts and lacerations heal cleanly, the chance for infection remains. The following are signs and symptoms of an infected horse:
- Heat. Using a clean hand, feel the wound: infected areas will be warmer than the surrounding tissue. If it’s hard to tell, experts recommend using the opposite side of the horse as a basis for the skin’s temperature.
- Pain. Pain and tenderness is a normal reaction to a new wound, but should lessen in the days following the injury. A sudden increase in pain is a cause for concern, and should be followed by a visit with the vet.
- Color. Some discoloration is normal, but redness surrounding, radiating, or “streaking through” the wound, warrants a call to the vet.
- Odor. Any off-putting smell coming from the wound is reason for concern - specifically, the sickly-sweet smell of dead tissue.
- Puss. While a clear or white discharge means that the wound is healing naturally, greenish or yellow puss leaking from the wound is a good reason to call the vet.
- Swelling. Though swelling initially occurs as infection-fighting cells rush to the site, an increase in swelling after originally subsiding may mean the wound is infected.
Remember: any wound carries the potential to become infected, so be sure to check the injured area multiple times a day.
How to Prevent Infection in Your Horse’s Wound
Providing a Safe Environment
The most common wounds happen around the horse's legs, often caused by fences, gates, or pieces of farm equipment. With this in mind, it’s important to keep fences, barn doors, and riding paths both safe and secure. Broken or loose-fitting tack are also cause for concern, as it may injure the sensitive tissues around the mouth. One should also keep an eye on interactions between multiple horses, to minimize instances of kicking or biting.
It’s also important to schedule yearly appointments with the vet, ensuring your horse is vaccinated for tetanus and in overall good health.
Treatment of Your Horse’s Infection
Step One: Stop the Bleeding
The first thing you should do upon noticing a cut is to stop the bleeding by applying direct pressure to the injured site. Once you’ve staunched the flow, be sure to call your vet. They will need to consider the depth, location, and characteristics of the wound before deciding if antibiotics, sutures, or other treatment is necessary.
Step Two: Irrigate the Wound
Wash the wound thoroughly with cold water--this will clean the laceration and potentially reduce swelling. Be sure to irrigate the wound to the best of your ability using a sterile saline solution, rinsing any debris from the site.
Step Three: Apply Antiseptic
Next, you may decide to use a mild antiseptic to clean the edges of the laceration. You may also consider using an antimicrobial spray, like FaunaCare’s Silver Spray. This adds an additional layer of protection, while continuing to fight bacteria.
Step Four: Apply a Dressing
Pending the veterinarian’s advice, you may be advised to apply a clean dressing on the wound, changing it periodically. The ideal dressing is firm, but not so tight that it will cause further damage. The dressing should not be loose, either, as it may rub against the injured site.
Step Five: Keep an Eye Out
Depending upon the injured site, you may be advised to limit your horse’s activity. Too much exercise will cause the wound to heal more slowly, leaving the injury prone to infection for a longer amount of time.
Pay attention to the wound as it heals, looking for the signs of infection listed above. Many experts recommend taking your horse’s temperature twice a day in order to check for fever. If the injured area doesn’t appear to be healing well or quickly, consult your vet: there may be underlying issues affecting the animal’s ability to heal.
Fighting an Infected Wound
When fighting infection, your vet will most likely prescribe an antibiotic to get your horse back to tip-top shape. Though debate surrounding antibiotics is never ending, there are over four-million bacteria sitting on one square inch of your horse’s skin. Therefore, antibiotics are sometimes necessary once infection sets in.
It is important to note that antibiotics should only be used when prescribed by a veterinarian. It is also worth mentioning the dose, route, and duration of antibiotic use should not defer from your vet’s recommendation.
Some antibiotics cannot be given orally, and must be injected into your horse’s neck, hindquarters, or chest. If this is the case, do not fret--your vet will show you the ropes, or continue giving the injection themselves. If you’re administering the antibiotic yourself, be sure the area is clean, and that you rotate the injection site between the aforementioned areas.
Overall, it is important to remember that accidents happen, even to the most diligent horse-owner--sometimes, despite our best efforts, the healing process is deferred by pesky bacteria. But with time, attention, and care, your horse should be back to tip-top shape in no time.