Peritonitis is a painful inflammation of peritoneum, the tissue that lines the abdomen and supports most abdominal organs. Often seen as a complication in horses that have had abdominal surgery, a ruptured bowel or injury to the abdominal cavity, if left untreated it can lead to organ failure and death.
Though often associated with prolonged antibiotic treatment, Dr. Emma Odelros and her colleagues Drs. Anna Kendall, Ylva Hedberg-Alm and John Pringle, say that a horse exhibiting a fever, acting colicky or seeming lethargic should be considered for peritonitis as not all peritonitis cases have a definitive underlying cause.
Peritonitis with an unknown cause is common in Sweden; unlike peritonitis that is associated with trauma, these horses have a good prognosis for survival. The team researched 130 cases diagnosed with idiopathic peritonitis based on abdominal fluid analysis and other tests. Of the affected horses, 83 percent had a fever; 80 percent were lethargic, 68 percent were not eating well and 51 percent acted colicky.
Cultures were done in 84 percent of the cases; 41 percent showed that there was bacterial infection, which is not much different from testing done on humans with septic peritonitis. All horses were given antimicrobials. Penicillin was the only antibiotic used on 43 of the horses and most responded well; 76 horses received penicillin and gentamicin; the rest were treated with a combination of other antimicrobials.
Survival rate until discharge was 94 percent; 97 percent of those discharged survived more than 12 months. The discharged horses did not seem to be at a greater risk for colic.
The scientists say they are not yet sure of how the bacteria infects the peritoneum, but the cultures indicate that it most likely comes from the gut; they specifically suspect that the intestinal mucosal barrier is compromised at some point in time, allowing bacteria through; parasite migration was also suspected.
Read the full study here.
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