What are Cystitis?
Cystitis is a condition that impacts your horse’s ability to urinate and is relatively rare. This condition can stand alone, or be the result of a concurrent health issue. Cystitis tends to impact male horses more so than mares.
Cystitis can mimic a general bladder infection or other conditions that can impact your horse’s bladder. Some of the other conditions that cystitis can be confused with are kidney infection, interstitial nephritis and leptospirosis.
Cystitis in horses is an infection or inflammation of your horse’s bladder. This condition is caused by bacteria which results from a blockage of the urinary tract or a paralysis of the bladder.
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Symptoms of Cystitis in Horses
The symptoms of cystitis can be somewhat generalized; however, there are some more specific signs and symptoms to be aware of. Some symptoms to look for in your horse are:
- Loss of control – Your horse may not be able to control when or where he urinates as he was once able to
- Frequent urination – You may notice your horse begin to urinate more frequently or less so compared to his former habits
- Urine dribbling – Instead of having a steady stream of urine, your horse may dribble urine without completely relieving himself
- Urine scalding – This is when your horse develops irritation and scabbing on his legs/hind quarters where urine splashes on his skin
- Straining to urinate – Your horse may strain or struggle to urinate
- Blood in urine – You may notice blood in his urine
Causes of Cystitis in Horses
The cause of cystitis in horses may be either a urinary tract obstruction or bladder paralysis.
- Urinary tract obstruction
- Cancer – In the event your horse develops cancer, tumors may obstruct his urinary tract
- Chronic infection – Can cause obstruction of the urinary tract as well
- Urethral sphincter dysfunction
- May result from nerve damage
- May impact the anus and tail as well
- Cervical spinal cord compression
- Neurological herpes virus
- Spinal neoplasia
Diagnosis of Cystitis in Horses
If you suspect your horse is suffering from cystitis, a veterinarian examination will be necessary. Your horse will most likely have a full physical exam along with a visual identification of any of the symptoms such as urine scalding. A urine sample will be necessary to test for bacteria to diagnose cystitis.
Other possible tests that may be necessary are endoscopy and ultrasound which will allow for a very detailed evaluation of the extent of the cystitis. Your veterinarian will want to know what symptoms you noticed, when you noticed them, and whether the symptoms are evolving in severity. It will be important to identify any behavioral changes (appetite, work performance, attitude) you have noticed in your horse as well.
Treatment of Cystitis in Horses
If your horse is diagnosed as having cystitis, antibiotics may be prescribed to clear up the infection. Your horse may also need to be catheterized long term to help him empty his bladder if he does not regain that ability. The removal of material in his bladder may also be necessary long term. As well, anti-inflammatory medications can be prescribed to help with your horse’s symptoms.
The main goal of treatment is to treat any infections causing his cystitis and any other underlying causes of his symptoms. In the event your horse’s condition is due to paralysis of the bladder, treatment would be for his bladder to be emptied via urinary catheter and removal of materials (for example, sediment if present) from his bladder through lavage. Medications may be prescribed to alleviate the need to urinate so frequently, and which may ease symptoms such as urine scalding and pain. If there is an underlying cause of the paralysis such as nerve damage or injury, that will need to be addressed; in some cases, a horse may remain permanently incontinent if the cause is untreatable.
Recovery of Cystitis in Horses
Follow up appointments will be necessary as determined by your horse’s veterinarian. Depending on the course of treatment, your equine companion may need to be seen for testing every few months and checkups on his bladder. In some cases, the prognosis for cystitis can be guarded.
Long term management with catharizing and removal of material in the bladder has been shown to be effective for up to 3 years. After that time, some horses did have to be put down due to ongoing and secondary medical concerns.
A full recovery can be expected if your horse is treated with antibiotics and does not need any further medical interventions. However, prognosis is not great if the cause of your horse’s cystitis is due to paralysis of his bladder. If this is the cause of his problems, putting him down may be the best and only option suggested.