What are Peritonitis?
The protective membrane, the peritoneum, acts as a lubricant to the internal cavity wall and provides a healthy surface for the internal organs to slide over each other. They also provide a fluid that helps lubricate the contents within the abdomen. It may also assist to combat infection. When this membrane is damaged or inflamed, infection can produce pus or abscesses may form, and in severe cases, your horse may succumb to shock. If you suspect this condition affecting your horse, act quickly to get veterinary assistance.
A shiny thin protective membrane, the peritoneum, covers the intestines of your horse. If this membrane becomes infected or ruptured, peritonitis results.
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Symptoms of Peritonitis in Horses
- Colic-like symptoms with severe abdominal pain is the most obvious sign
- Dehydration and weight loss
- Distress and collapsing with convulsions or thrashing on the floor
- Aversion to moving around or exercise
- Rapid heart rate and palpitations
- High temperature and fever
- Swollen bloated abdomen
- Dull lifeless coat and eyes
- Sweating and shock
- Severe case of generalised peritonitis can be devastating causing sharp pain and causing shock and ultimately death within a short time
- Peritonitis may be confined to a small area with an abscess developing that causes colic like symptoms
- It may be the primary disease or result from other conditions
- Peritonitis can be chronic, septic or non-septic
Causes of Peritonitis in Horses
- Invasion of the peritoneal cavity by foreign matter or bacteria
- Twisting of the uterus causing rupture damage and pain
- Tumor formation
- Complications resulting from abdominal surgery
- Bacterial infection getting into the bloodstream
- Contamination of the abdominal cavity
- Piercing of the peritoneum membrane
- Rupture of the stomach or bowel
- Birth difficulties and damage
Diagnosis of Peritonitis in Horses
This can be a deadly condition for your horse so if there are any signs of peritonitis it is highly advised that you call your veterinarian immediately. This condition can mimic colic but if the condition remains for more than a couple of days or increases in severity, then it is not colic that is the problem, it is much more serious. The condition can rapidly escalate to a very serious stage if left unchecked. Blood tests taken to the laboratory for analysis can provide evidence of clinical diagnosis.
Your animal specialist will run a series of tests to determine what the causes are. Physical examination and laboratory analysis remain the main determination of diagnosis. A very sudden episode of generalised peritonitis may be the result of a ruptured bowel or stomach and unfortunately if that is the case, the kindest thing is to put our horse down as quickly as possible. Thankfully other cases of peritonitis respond to treatment.
Treatment of Peritonitis in Horses
Treatment is geared at saving the life of your horse and stabilising cardiovascular and main organs within the body. Treatment against shock, aggressive anti-inflammatory treatment, and metabolic and other disturbances need to be addressed. Your veterinarian will use replacement fluids, electrolytes and even whole blood to maintain the condition of the heart and improve circulation. The major concern is circulatory failure from complications. Vitamin C and E treatments may be of use as an antioxidative means. The most common and effective treatment is the use of antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs. This may mean several weeks on a cocktail of medication to ensure healing has begun.
Flushing out the peritoneal cavity with many litres of saline liquid can also help clear the condition up. The sooner diagnosis is made and treatment begins the better. Once this condition takes hold your horse may suffer going into shock as its system is invaded by bacterial toxins. If your horse’s peritonitis is due to tearing of the stomach or intestines, shock will quickly follow and there is no cure unfortunately. Thankfully this is not a common occurrence but it is always something to be aware of.
Recovery of Peritonitis in Horses
Depending on the severity of this condition, and with new developments in veterinary medicine and treatments, recovery now has a better chance, but not all who contact this disease will recover. Being a keen observer of your horse’s habits and health can help detect any illness early on which is sometimes essential for being able to cure this condition. In the case of peritonitis, it will take your horse some time to return to normal, the treatments or medications need to continue until clearance is given by your veterinarian. Rest, plenty of fresh water, and clean healthy feed will help, once your horse has his appetite back. For a while, your horse will feel quite unwell until all the infection has been cleared. With good care and management your horse can continue to live a long and healthy life.