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How to Tell if Your Horse’s Wound is Infected

4 min read

How to Tell if Your Horse’s Wound is Infected

*Are you wondering if you have an emergency on your hands? Jump to the end for a quick and easy chart.*

I’m not sure about you, but if I could surround my horse with bubble wrap I would. Our equine partners always find ways to injure themselves. Unfortunately, infections from these injuries are relatively common. Most horses injure themselves in the pasture or stable where manure and bacteria are a constant presence. Even in a surgical hospital where instruments are sterilized and the environment is clean, infection is still a concern.  One study showed that 1 out of every 10 horses developed postoperative infection after surgery.

Whether you’re caring for a postoperative site or a laceration that occurred out in the paddock, understanding what infection looks like and how to manage it is a crucial skill for all horse owners. The fact is that secondary infections can be life threatening. Acting quickly to address the infection, manage the wound, and communicate with your vet could save your horse’s life. 

Heat and Swelling

When your horse first gets a laceration, cut, or abrasion, there may be some swelling localized to the area. The amount of swelling can vary greatly based on the location and severity of the injury. While this initial swelling is normal, increasing heat and  long-lasting swelling is a sign that infection is brewing in the damaged tissue. Differentiating between the initial swelling due to injury and secondary swelling from infection can be difficult. 

Initially, there should be minimal to no heat around the injured tissue, even if swelling is present. If the edoema increases and heat develops around the wound over the next few days, then you may be looking at an active infection. It’s important to closely observe the state of the wound when it first occurs.You may find it helpful to write down notes in regards to any swelling or heat present on Day 1 so you can refresh your memory later on. If you realize that swelling has increased or heat has appeared, it’s time to call your veterinarian. 

Increasing Pain

Just like with people, even the smallest splinter can hurt. Pain is to be expected with any sort of laceration, no matter how small. As the wound starts to heal the pain level should decrease as a scab forms and the size of the injury shrinks. But if your horse’s wound is infected, the pain level will increase in the days following the injury. 

When caring for your horse, watch closely to see if they are becoming more reactive to your care of the area. Even the most stoic horses will react to the pain from an infected wound. Signs of pain include pawing at the ground, twitching skin, and moving away from you. If the horse is in significant pain, it may even start kicking out, rearing, biting, or exhibiting other dangerous behavior. Always be mindful of your safety when managing a painful area on your horse. 

Color of Damaged Tissue

When humans have an infected cut or laceration, the surrounding skin appears bright red and swollen. If the infection progresses, you may start to see streaks of red emanating from the area. 

An infected horse wound exhibits the same signs, but they’re more difficult to notice depending on the color of your horse’s coat. You may not be able to see any redness beneath a dark hair coat. Instead of looking at the area around the wound, check the raw flesh at the wound site. The presence of bright pink skin, a bit darker than a chicken breast, is a sign that the wound is healthy and coming along nicely. But if the skin becomes red and tight-looking, an infection is starting to develop. 

Unusual Discharge

When researching wound healing, you may come across the idea of keeping a wound moist.  While it is true that moisture creates a great environment for healing, there should not be any sort of wet discharge or pus leaking from the area.

Pus is a thick yellow, white, green, or brown liquid that is made up of dead tissue, cells, and bacteria. When a wound becomes infected, the body floods the area with neutrophils, a type of white blood cell. As these white blood cells attack the infection, some of them will die along with the bad bacteria. Pus is a build-up of these dead neutrophils, along with infected tissue. 

Pus cannot exist without an infection present. A sure sign of an active infection is pus leaking out from your horse’s injury. 

Managing an Infected Horse Wound

If you notice any of these signs of infection on your horse, contact your vet immediately. Your veterinarian will be able to help you manage the infection. Antibiotics may be needed, however use these sparingly and only at your veterinarian’s direction.

An infected horse wound will require daily care. It’s important that you develop and follow a wound care protocol for cleaning, wrapping (as needed), and protection for the vulnerable injured area. A high-quality barrier cream is an essential part of every  equestrian’s first aid kit as it protects and moisturizes the wound. 

Zarasyl doesn’t just create a superior moisturizing environment, like other creams and ointments, the novel technology behind Zarasyl was originally designed for human use. Now, we’re putting that technology to good use for our horses.

Orthosilicic acid, one of Zarasyl’s ingredients, is the bioavailable form of silicon
associated with the healthy connective tissue growth. Zarasyl’s
steroid- and antibiotic-free composition means that it’s competition-safe for all disciplines. 

Take the frustration out of managing your horse’s infected wound. Learn more about Zarasyl here.  

Is Your Horse’s Wound Infected?

If you check one or more of the boxes in the infected category, it’s time to call your vet!


Healthy Wound

Infected Wound


Minimal to None

Hot to the Touch







Tissue Color

Bright Pink

Dark Red



Pus is Present