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Also Known As

Infections, sores


Wounds, insect bites, injections and any condition that causes a break in the horse's skin, flesh, hoof, or one of the horse's major systems such as the respiratory or digestive system can result in an infection.

Because activity level of most horses and the environments in which they live, situations resulting in infection are commonplace. Any part of the horse's body, from the eyelid to the respiratory tract, from the placenta to the frog, is subject to compromises or injuries that can permit an infection to take hold.

Infections are characterized by inflammation, purulent discharge, fever, and elevated white blood cell count. Determining the identification of the kind of infection is usually accomplished by making a culture and identifying the colony, appearance, and microscopic characteristics of the infectious agent. Once this is done, an effective treatment can be prescribed by a veterinarian.


  • Inflammation
  • Swelling with purulent discharge
  • Fever or localized heat
  • Elevated white blood cell count


A compromise in the skin, membrane, covering, or an opening into the body allows infectious microorganisms to gain entry into tissues, leading to destruction of cells and resulting infection. Bites, scratches, lacerations, puncture wounds, injection sites, devitalized tissue, and other compromised areas are susceptible to invasion by bacteria, viruses, and fungi.


The first layer of prevention of infection is a daily inspection of the horse, paying immediate attention to any bites, scratches, lacerations, puncture wounds, injection sites, or signs of infection. With prompt attention and proper use of antibiotics and medications, infections can be minimized and controlled before they spread or affect the health of the horse.

Skin, eyes, ears, limbs, and body can be quickly inspected on a daily basis for signs of infection. Infections in internal organs will be more difficult to detect, but careful attention given to any changes in a horse's behavior, exercise tolerance level, or demeanor will help owners and handlers detect possible problems.

The second layer of prevention of infection is dependent on good stable and pasture management. Stables and all facilities should be clean and sanitary. Manure and debris should be removed promptly, and the areas kept well-drained and well-ventilated.

The implementation of insect control is an important part of preventing infections caused by biting insects.

New horses being brought onto the premises should be thoroughly checked for signs of infection and isolated until it is determined that they do not have conditions that could affect the health of other horses.

Disposable syringes and needles should be used. Follow the rule: one horse--one needle. All brushes and grooming equipment should be cleaned regularly, and if a horse has an infection of any kind, separate equipment and grooming utensils should be used for that horse.


Careful diagnosis of the type of infection is necessary before treatment begins. Knowledgeable handlers and veterinarians often recognize the kind of infection from examining the infected site. If any doubt exists, a culture can be made and the microorganism identified.

Some veterinarians apply antibiotics to culture plates to see which antibiotic inhibits growth of the cultured colonies. This way, they can determine the best treatment. In other cases, commercial ointments, salves, lotions, or spray-on medications are prescribed.

Careful attention should be paid to possible secondary infections and to the emergence of resistant strains of bacteria when antibiotics are used. Since antibiotics alter the normal flora that serves as a protective barrier, pathogenic bacteria may be freed to multiply and cause secondary infections.

In the case of emergence of resistant strains of bacteria, your veterinarian can prescribe a different treatment, since microorganisms that develop resistance to one antibiotic may be resistant to others in the same class. 

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EquiMed Staff

EquiMed staff writers team up to provide articles that require periodic updates based on evolving methods of equine healthcare. Compendia articles, core healthcare topics and more are written and updated as a group effort. Our review process includes an important veterinarian review, helping to assure the content is consistent with the latest understanding from a medical professional.