What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Wound or Puncture Smells


Properly healing wounds generally do not generate much odor. Wounds that have foreign or dead material (and especially dead bone) within them tend to have strong and objectionable odor. Wounds under bandages also can have a variety of pungent odors, especially when left on for long periods.

The smell we notice indicates bacterial growth. In some cases, the presence of odor does not signal a problem. In other cases, it indicates bacterial infection that needs to be treated to allow wound healing to progress.

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your role


What To Do

You should consult with your vet if you notice odor coming from a wound. Look for swelling, lameness, increased drainage, reddening of surrounding skin or soreness to pressure on or around the wound. An obvious smell to a wound is not cause for panic, but is a warning sign that there may be something wrong that needs to be treated- maybe a bacterial infection, foreign material or dead tissue within the wound.

For wounds under a bandage: Some changes you make might in wound treatment decrease wound bacterial numbers. Consider leaving the wound un-bandaged and open to the air for a time. Spraying the wound with pressurized water, saline, or dilute antiseptics can help reduce bacterial numbers. Applying certain antibacterial wound creams under the guidance of your vet may also help.

What Not To Do

Do not apply antibiotic products or strong disinfectants to the injury, unless advised to do so by your vet.

your vet's role

Your vet assesses the wound visually and by the appearance and feel of the surrounding area. They consider nearby anatomic structures that may be involved. They use probing of the wounds and various imaging like x-ray and ultrasound to rule out infected material or tissue within the wound.

Wound odors of different types provide us additional information about wound healing. Certain smells indicate the presence of certain types of bacteria . Depending upon a variety of factors, your vet may determine that the treatment plan needs to be modified or that further diagnostics may need to be run.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Can you send a photo?
  • Does the wound seem to be healing?
  • When did you first notice the wound?
  • Where, specifically, is the wound?
  • Have you previously bandaged the wound?
  • What dressings are you applying to the area?
  • What are you doing to treat the wound?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP