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How to Treat a Horse’s Abscess

May 12, 2017

Manuka Honey , Health

Having horses is one of the more fulfilling experiences people can have, from the love and trust they offer to the companionship they embark on with you if you do the same. Along with feeding, grooming, trimming hooves, and caring for horses in general, ownership also comes with the responsibility of providing veterinary care, including regular checkups and disease prevention and treatment. One issue that can affect horses, and that owners should pay close attention to, is an abscess.

Abscess Defined

“Abscess” refers to a buildup of pus, or deadened white blood cells, that can create an internal or external lump anywhere on a horse’s body. Abscesses happen due to an infection where the white blood cells gathered to repel some foreign antigen (a substance the body determines is unwanted), died, and became walled off into a lump while the body attempted to segregate the infection. That lump also comes with inflammation, which can be painful because of the pressure it builds up – anyone who’s ever lost a horse to chronic laminitis knows what that is like. As time goes one, the abscess could break and release pus.

Symptoms and Causes

Common symptoms owners should look out for include swelling beneath the skin, a solid lump (which could be hot to touch or tender), pus secretion, and lameness. In addition to infection, an abscess can be caused by skin penetration by a foreign object, a nail in the hoof, a wound, or “strangles” (a bacterial respiratory infection). More often than not, abscesses are caused by small things getting under or into the skin and becoming infected, thereby leading to an abscess. With these factors in mind, however, it is luckily easy for a veterinarian to identify and diagnose an abscess, but he or she may order a blood test for the horse to remove doubt about other infections.


In terms of treatment, a vet can prescribe antibiotics for the initial infection. If the abscess hasn’t been there for very long, it can be cleaned up with an antiseptic scrub. If it’s sat too long, do not attempt to drain the abscess by yourself. Let the vet drain the abscess, for which he or she will use a poultice, a moist soft mass (made of flour or plant material). The poultice is medicated, heated, and applied to the infected spot.

During treatment, the vet may take a culture from the abscess and mail it to a lab to identify the bacteria that triggered the infection. This could help determine which antibiotic should be used or if one is necessary. Treatment can vary on a case-by-case basis—by the kind of infection, where the abscess is, if the vet used a Manuka honey press, antibiotics, or both—so it’s advised to horse owners to keep a lookout for symptoms and notify the vet so he or she can administer treatment.

Photo via Phovoir / Shutterstock

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