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Antibiotic prophylaxis of lower respiratory tract contamination in horses confined with head elevation for 24 or 48 hours

Raidal, S.L., Taplin, R.H., Bailey, G.D. and Love, D.N. (1997) Antibiotic prophylaxis of lower respiratory tract contamination in horses confined with head elevation for 24 or 48 hours. Australian Veterinary Journal, 75 (2). pp. 126-131.

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To evaluate the administration of procaine penicillin prior to or during confinement with head elevation as a means of reducing the associated accumulation of inflammatory lower respiratory tract secretions and increased numbers of bacteria within the lower respiratory tract of confined horses.

Design and Procedure

Two experiments were conducted to evaluate the efficacy of different dose rates and dosing frequencies. In experiment A a single low dose (15,000 IU/kg) of procaine penicillin was administered to four horses immediately prior to confinement with head elevation for 48 hours. The systemic leucocyte response, gross and cytologic characteristics of transtracheal aspirate and bacterial numbers in lower respiratory tract samples were compared with corresponding samples from two horses confined with heads elevated but not given penicillin. The efficacy of higher dose rates (20,000 IU/kg and 40,000 IU/kg) given before and during confinement with heads elevated for 24 hours was evaluated in experiment B.


Treatment with procaine penicillin had no effect on the systemic leucocyte response or on the accumulation of inflammatory lower respiratory tract secretions at any of the dosing schedules evaluated. The number of bacteria isolated from trans-tracheal samples was reduced at 12 hours for treated horses in experiment A and at 24 hours for experiment B. β-haemolytic Streptococcus spp were not isolated from treated horses in either experiment. Bacterial species isolated from treated horses were predominantly Pasteurella and/or Actinobacillus spp, however, members of the family Enterobacteriaceaé and a Staphylococcus sp were isolated from treated horses. One treated horse in experiment A developed clinically apparent pulmonary disease.


The prophylactic administration of penicillin before or during confinement did not reliably reduce bacterial numbers or prevent the accumulation of purulent lower respiratory tract secretions in horses confined with their heads elevated. Numbers of β-haemolytic Streptococcus spp were reduced following treatment, suggesting that the repeated administration of procaine penicillin may have some merit as part of a strategy to prevent transport-associated respiratory disease. However, methods directed at minimising the duration of confinement with head elevation, augmentation of the clearance of accumulated secretions and prompt identification of animals in which airway inflammation has extended to the pulmonary parenchyma remain the best ways of minimising transport-associated respiratory disease.

Publication Type: Journal Article
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences
School of Veterinary Studies
Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell
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