Fistulous withers, also known as ‘saddle sore” is a painful condition that is caused when open wounds along the spine are infected. It’s often the cause of something as simple as the constant rubbing or a saddle or harness which eventually leads to the introduction of a bacteria called Brucella around the sensitive tissue of the animal’s shoulders. Left untreated this can develop in to chronic infection of the area and swelling, pain, fever, and lameness. Horses, mules, and donkeys who suffer from fistulous withers are brought to our SPANA centres lethargic and in intense discomfort, often with open wounds along their back. Vets can reduce the swelling and discomfort with cold packs, non steroidals, systemic antibiotics and at times surgery, but if the animal continues to be worked with uncomfortable and unsuitable equipment, the problem will just persist or return.
One of the biggest challenges for our vets is that the bacteria causing the infection can lie dormant, undetected in horses, mules, and donkeys for as long as two years before developing in to the condition making it very hard to manage. In some cases, by the time the condition has been identified, it’s too late to do anything but surgically remove the tissue around the withers – a painful and stressful procedure for the animal. What’s worse, the infection can be transmitted from and to cattle and can be deadly to other livestock as well as the livelihoods of the people who depend on their herds for survival.