Reviewing Limb Cellulitis: Management Key to Good Outcome

According to a new Canadian study, cellulitis--a diffuse bacterial infection of the skin and associated tissues--is common in horses, particularly Thoroughbreds, but is rarely life threatening if managed appropriately.

"Despite being a common affliction in horses, little evidence is available regarding the cause, predisposing factors, or ideal diagnostic or treatment strategies," said co-author Luis Arroyo, DVM, DVSc, from the Ontario Veterinary College in Canada. "This retrospective study was designed in an attempt to obtain more information about limb cellulitis."

Between 1994 and 2005, 63 horses were treated for limb cellulitis. Hind limbs were affected more often than forelimbs, and Thoroughbreds were significantly over-represented compared to any other breed.

"Blunt trauma, surgery, and injections on the affected limb were thought to be the underlying cases in some cases; however, in almost half of our cases, no possible cause was identified," explained Arroyo.

All horses included in the study were treated with broad-spectrum antimicrobials and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The overall survival rate was 89% at the time of discharge.

"This study also found that ultrasonography of the affected limb could assist in identifying areas of the limb where a surgical drain might be placed to expedite the healing process," said Arroyo. "In our study, this technique was used successfully in 14 horses."

Seven horses were euthanized due to cellulitis-associated complications, with the development of laminitis in the contralateral limb the most common reason for humane euthanasia.

The study, "Retrospective study of the clinical features of limb cellulitis in 63 horses" was published in February 2008 in the journal Veterinary Record. Contributing authors were Catherine Fjordbakk and Joanne Hewson.

About the Author

Stacey Oke, DVM, MSc

Stacey Oke, MSc, DVM, is a practicing veterinarian and freelance medical writer and editor. She is interested in both large and small animals, as well as complementary and alternative medicine. Since 2005, she's worked as a research consultant for nutritional supplement companies, assisted physicians and veterinarians in publishing research articles and textbooks, and written for a number of educational magazines and websites.

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