Antimicrobial-associated diarrhoea in three equine referral practices


email:; Received: 27.07.11; Accepted: 03.05.12


Reasons for performing study: Although antimicrobial-associated diarrhoea (AAD) is the most frequently observed adverse effect of antimicrobial therapy in horses, few multicentred studies on the prevalence of AAD have been performed.

Objectives: To determine the prevalence of AAD in horses that developed diarrhoea after antimicrobial treatment for nondiarrhoeic conditions and identify the antimicrobials used.

Methods: The 2009 database of 3 referral hospitals was searched to identify nonhospitalised horses (weanling age or older) treated with antimicrobials for nongastrointestinal conditions. Horses with these criteria that presented with diarrhoea during 2009 were included in the study. Additional information, including antimicrobial administered and results of faecal pathogen testing, was gathered on each hospitalised case.

Results: Of the 5251 horses treated with antimicrobials for nongastrointestinal signs, 32 were diagnosed with probable AAD, a prevalence of 0.6% (95% confidence interval: 0.43–0.86%). The AAD-diagnosed horses had an 18.8% (6/32) mortality rate. Horses with AAD had been treated for an average of 4.2 days. The most frequently used antimicrobials in horses with AAD were gentamicin in combination with penicillin (n = 7), enrofloxacin (n = 7) and doxycycline (n = 4). Clostridium difficile was identified in faecal samples from 4 horses, 2 of which died and Salmonella from 3 horses.

Conclusions: Results indicated that the prevalence of AAD is low. Any antimicrobial class commonly used in equine practice is a potential cause of equine AAD. Other risk factors, such as opportunistic enteropathogens, may play a part in the development of diarrhoea secondary to antimicrobial usage.

Potential relevance: Although the risk of equine AAD is low, this sequela of antimicrobial treatment is possible especially when opportunistic enteropathogens or other risk factors are present. Because drugs from any antimicrobial class can be potentially involved in AAD, clinicians have additional incentive to ensure the judicious use of antimicrobial agents.