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What are Abdominal Abscesses?

The presence of an abscess is due to an infection or invasion of the body; abscesses often form as a protective pocket in an effort to control the spread of the liquefied infection. Pockets of pus and fluid are more easily dealt with when in an area of accessibility. The abdominal abscess can be more difficult to treat. There is no breed predisposition for abscesses, nor are they more common in either sex of equine. Bacteria and viruses are two of the causes of abscesses; lancing and draining the affected area is the treatment most commonly used.

Abscesses are pockets of dead tissue and liquefied infection found anywhere on your horse’s body. Often, they can be found in the abdomen. These abscesses may become painful for your horse and feel hot and inflamed upon touch.

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Symptoms of Abdominal Abscesses in Horses

  • Heat – Your horse may have a fever, as well as the area feeling warm to the touch
  • Inflammation
  • Colic - May be intermittent
  • Swelling – This will most likely be noticeable on your horse’s chest/abdomen and will be seen by the naked eye
  • Chronic loss of weight
  • Anorexia
  • Pain – Your horse may exhibit physical discomfort when walking or touched at the site of the abscess 
  • Heart/respiration – Increase in heartbeat and respiration along with the infection
  • Rigid areas – These may be hard to the touch along his chest and abdomen

Causes of Abdominal Abscesses in Horses

Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis

  •  Causes pigeon fever
  • Most common cause of abscesses
  • Creates an abscess that resembles a pigeon’s chest, hence the name 
  • Found in all areas of the United States, Southern Canada and Northern Mexico 
  • Can also cause internal abscesses

Streptococcus equi

  • Can cause internal abscesses

Streptococcus zooepidemicus

  • Can cause internal abscesses 

Other

  • Viruses
  • Parasites
  • Swallowed objects

Diagnosis of Abdominal Abscesses in Horses

Your veterinarian will want to perform a physical examination which includes a gentle palpation of obvious masses or abscesses your horse has. The veterinarian may also take your horse’s temperature to see if he is running a fever as this can be an indication of infection. 

Blood cultures may reveal the presence of bacteria. Anemia is often seen in horses with abdominal masses as is hypoalbuminemia and hypergammaglobulinemia; a rectal exam may allow the veterinarian to feel an internal abscess. The veterinarian may decide to examine fluid from the abdomen to verify protein and neutrophil numbers. An ultrasound may provide a definitive diagnosis.

Treatment of Abdominal Abscesses in Horses

Once the cause of the infection and abscess is determined, your veterinarian will want to treat the infection. With an abscess, antibiotics are not often used as there is doubt that they provide much improvement due to the lack of blood supply in an abscessed area. The treatment of choice is typically to lance, clean and drain the abscess. This process must be done daily until all signs of infection are gone and is done with a diluted Betadine solution. The veterinarian will then decide whether the wound should be packed and bandaged or left free to drain.

With an internal abscess, the use of an ultrasound guided needle is preferred method in order to avoid an injury or puncture in another area. However, an internal abscess deep within the abdominal cavity may prove difficult to treat. In these cases, long term antibiotics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories are employed with hopes of a resolution.

Recovery of Abdominal Abscesses in Horses

Ongoing follow up will be necessary as directed by your veterinarian to ensure the abscess has properly drained and all signs of infection have cleared up. This may involve continuing to dress and bandage an external wound along with keeping the area clean. The rate of mortality with an internal abscess, particularly if diagnosed in later stages, is 30%.

A large part of abscess treatment is prevention so that your horse does not develop new abscesses. This can be done by isolating your horse from others; keeping the barn area free from flies as much as possible will also help to prevent the spreading of the bacteria. 

Disinfecting or destroying any material that has encountered pus from the wound will be a necessary step to ensure no further spread of the infection. Keeping your horse’s feeding and watering area clean will also be beneficial in preventing any further issues.