What infection looks like

All open wounds can look a little gross if you aren't accustomed to seeing them. Here's how to distinguish "ew" from "infected."

After the veterinarian leaves, the task of monitoring a healing wound for signs of infection falls to you, your horse’s caretaker. But if you aren’t accustomed to it, the sight of an open wound can be alarming, even if it’s healthy and healing on schedule. How do you distinguish “ew” from “infected”? Here are a few tips:

Close up of a horse's hind limb with a wound on it
If you suspect your horse’s wound is infected, snap and picture and send it to your veterinarian

• All healing wounds produce exudate, a slimy discharge containing cellular debris that forms on the surface. Exudate alone isn’t a sign of infection. However, a dramatic increase in the amount or a change in color can be.

Click here to learn the phases of equine wound healing.

• Healthy wounds typically don’t have an odor, but an infected wound will often smell rotten. At the same time, a healthy, moist wound under a bandage may emit an odor when first uncovered, and any wound near a hoof smells foul when first unwrapped. If these odors persist after 20 minutes of “airing out,” it may be cause for concern.

• Swelling is to be expected with a wound but will steadily decrease if healing is progressing normally. Don’t confuse a wound filling in with granulation tissue with swelling, however. Look for swelling of the tissues immediately surrounding the wound and suspect infection if it worsens.

• Wounds are likely to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, but these diminish quickly with healing. If your horse suddenly seems more reactive or upset when you tend to the wound than he did the day before, it could be the result of infection.

• Heat in the skin around a wound can be a sign of a developing infection, as is a fever. If you notice either call your veterinarian.

If you’re in doubt about how a wound is healing, snap a picture and send it to your veterinarian for guidance.

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