Friday, 13 May 2016

All About ... Fistulous Withers

What is it

Fistulous withers is when the bursa of the spine area near the withers becomes inflamed and ulcers develop.  The swellings usually appear on the withers but can extend along the shoulder blades.  The swellings can be non-infected or can be weeping and infected.  


The ulcers may appear suddenly or develop slowly.

  • Swelling 
  • Heat 
  • Pain 
  • Discharge, fluid is straw coloured but may change to a white/yellow pus 
  • Stiff in movement of forelimbs 
  • Lethargy 
  • Fever


Most often caused by an ill fitting saddle or harness causing a rub which then develops into a wound which then becomes infected.  Badly balanced loads can also cause damage to the area resulting in the swellings and infection.  Injury is sometimes caused by trauma eg: a knock on a fence etc.

Alternatively, Fistulous Withers can be caused by a bacteria called Brucella abortus but this usually only occurs when horses are kept with cattle and is rare. 


Call the vet as they may take a swab to identify the bacteria and then prescribe anitbiotics.  They may also take a blood sample to assess the extent of the infection and the cause. 
In some cases the infected tissue is removed.  Unfortunately Fistulous Withers often returns.


  • Remove the cause.  If caused by a saddle or harness rubbing the horse should not be ridden or driven until the area has fully healed.  
  • Clean the wound 
  • Apply a topical ointment 
  • As mentioned above the vet may prescribe antibiotics 
  • Once the area has healed ensure the saddle and or harness is checked and altered so that it fits correctly. 
  • If the injury was caused by a knock ensure the cause is removed.


Ensure your saddle, other tack or harness fits correctly and is well balanced.  It must not rest on the spine (including the withers).  Keep the stable, yard and field clear of objects which can cause damage.

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Until next time!

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