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A retrospective study of idiopathic peritonitis in horses

Last changed: 05 July 2019

Peritonitis in horses is historically associated with prolonged treatment regimens of broad-spectrum antimicrobials and a guarded prognosis for survival. The condition is most often seen as a secondary complication to traumatic injuries involving the abdominal cavity, rupture of bowel or abdominal surgery. However, cases of idiopathic peritonitis with no such underlying cause have been described.

In Sweden idiopathic peritonitis is commonly identified and, in contrast to peritonitis secondary to traumatic incidents, affected horses appear to respond well to medical treatment. The objectives of this study were to describe clinical signs, laboratory findings, bacterial culture results, treatment regimens and survival rates for horses diagnosed with idiopathic peritonitis.


Medical records were obtained from horses diagnosed with peritonitis without identifiable cause. Diagnosis was based on macroscopically abnormal peritoneal fluid, with an elevated nucleated cell count (> 10 × 109 cells/L) or total protein (> 25 g/L). A total of 130 horses were included, presenting with pyrexia (83%), lethargy (80%), anorexia (68%) and abdominal pain (51%). Microbial cultures were performed in 84% of the cases of which 41% were positive. The most commonly recovered bacteria were Actinobacillus spp., cultured from 21% of the submitted samples. All horses received antimicrobial therapy and many responded to treatment with penicillin alone. Survival until discharge was 94%.


Idiopathic peritonitis is a disease that should be considered in horses presented with fever, signs of colic and lethargy. Medical treatment of idiopathic peritonitis is often successful and in Sweden most cases appear to respond well to treatment with penicillin as the sole antimicrobial.

Link to the publication


Emma Odelros, Anna Kendall, Ylva Hedberg-Alm and John Pringle. Idiopathic peritonitis in horses: a retrospective study of 130 cases in Sweden (2002–2017). Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica (2019), 61:18.


Anna Kendall
Doctoral student at the Department of Biomedical Science and Veterinary Public Health; Pathology Unit

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