Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Healing Leg Wound, Sudden Increase in Swelling, Drainage or Lameness

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

Code Red - Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

  • If severe lameness accompanies this sign.

Code Orange - Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours

  • If there is modest or little lameness but significant swelling.

You have been treating your horse’s leg wound for a period of time, hopefully with veterinary guidance. The wound is getting smaller and seeming to heal well. But one day you suddenly notice increased swelling, or sudden onset of lameness. What might this mean?

Normal skin is covered in bacteria. Healing wounds are covered in bacteria. Cleaning a wound temporarily reduces the bacterial population but it does not rid the wound bed of bacteria, and the bacterial population rapidly returns. This is ok, because a normal bacterial population is an expected part of the healing process. Antibiotics change this bacterial population but certainly do not rid the wound of bacteria.

However, sometimes normal bacteria can colonize the deeper part of the wound, and create a closed infection, either under the skin or within the tissues. Since it cannot drain, it swells resulting in an abscess.

Worse yet, during healing, suddenly bacteria might gain access to a tendon sheath or joint. In most cases, swelling and lameness will result.

In other cases, abnormal or “bad” pathogenic bacteria can create a significant wound infection, which causes inflammation, swelling and lameness.

WHAT TO DO

Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) and assess the horse for lameness. If the horse is severely lame, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Clean the wound well. Look for obvious changes in the wound’s appearance and send a photo to your vet for discussion.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet will examine the wound and use various diagnostics to determine what has happened. It will most likely be one of the three conditions described above.

Helpful Terms & Topics in HSVGWritten, Reviewed or Shared by Experts in Equine Health

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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