Abscess in Horses

Anna O'Brien
Mar 02, 2012
2 min read
Image: Photo Grapher / via Image Bank

Abscess in Horses

An abscess is an accumulation of pus (dead white blood cells) that forms a lump internally or externally on your horse’s body. It occurs as a result of an infection, as the white blood cells assemble to fight off a foreign antigen, then subsequently die, becoming walled off in a capsule as the body attempts to isolate the infection. This lump is usually accompanied by inflammation and can be painful, due to the buildup of pressure. As time passes, the abscess can rupture, releasing pus.

Symptoms and Types

  • Slight swelling under the skin
  • A firm lump that may be tender or hot to the touch
  • Secretion of pus
  • Lameness

Causes

  • Penetration of the skin surface with a foreign object
  • A wound
  • A nail in the hoof
  • Infection
  • Strangles (respiratory bacterial infection caused by Streptococcus equi)

Diagnosis

Upon examining the affected area, your veterinarian should easily be able to determine whether the wound is an abscess. The vet may then order blood tests to check for other infections. Many times, minor things will get into or under the skin and become infected, causing an abscess.

Treatment

On occasion, a veterinarian may prescribe an antibiotic to cure the infection affecting that particular area of the horse's body. Never drain an abscess yourself. If the abscess has not been present for long, the wound may be cleaned with an antiseptic scrub.

To drain the infection, the veterinarian may use a poultice -- a soft moist mass which is often heated and medicated, and then applied over the infected area. Sometimes, the veterinarian will take a sample (culture) of the pus and send it to a lab to see what type of bacteria is causing the infection. This may help dictate which antibiotic is used, or if an antibiotic is needed at all. If the abscess is in the hoof, the hoof may have to be trimmed.

The course of treatment varies from case to case (and may be determined by the type of infection as well as the location of the abscess), so do not attempt to administer treatment yourself.

Living and Management

Caring for a horse with an abscess does not have to be tricky. After the abscess has been treated, keeping it clean is critical. Make sure the area is healing and pay close attention to your horse's overall health. If other symptoms appear, such as lameness or change in appetite, have your horse re-examined by a veterinarian immediately. Many horses will feel immediate relief once the abscess has ruptured.

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