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General Antibiotic Risks

Antibiotics are powerful drugs that are commonly used to treat infection in horses.

Before agreeing to antibiotic treatment for your horse, it is important that you understand that the use of all antibiotic drugs involves some risk to the patient.

Horses are complex animals and while it is not possible to detail all the potential complications associated with antibiotic therapy; the following is an outline of the recognised areas of risk.

It is important that antibiotics are used in the manner in which they are prescribed and that specific instructions are exactly followed.

There are many different classes and types of antibiotics but all drugs may result in the following complications: colitis, pain, muscle injury, abscess formation, thrombophlebitis, iatrogenic injury.

The consequences of a horse suffering one or more of these conditions can range from minor to fatal, depending on the degree to which the horse is affected and the organ system involved.

SEH veterinarians are aware of the risks and potential consequences of antibiotic therapy and act to manage these risks as far as is practically possible.

Occasionally and in spite of all precautions, horses may suffer one or more of these general complications when they undergo antibiotic therapy. This most commonly occurs when the horse is already suffering from disease or injury; however it can also happen to horses which appear fit and healthy and show no signs of compromise prior to antibiotic therapy.

  • Colitis (diarrhoea): This condition can range from mild signs requiring no treatment, apart from stopping the antibiotics, through to severe diarrhoea which may require hospitalisation and intensive care and may be life threatening. Adults are at greater risk than foals.
  • Muscle Injury: Pain or muscle injury at the injection site.
  • Abcess Formation:Abscess formation at the injection site. Abscesses may require lancing and further therapy.
  • Thrombophlebitis (infected vein): This condition can occur following catheter placement or a single intravenous injection. These infections range from mild, requiring no further treatment to more severe infections that result in the loss of the vein.
  • Iatrogenic Injury: Any procedure involving horses, especially young, unhandled and temperamental animals can result in accidental injury to the horse including the eye which may result in damage and possible loss of the eye.