Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Swollen Fetlock (Ankle)

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

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

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

  • If you notice any lameness or have any other concern.

Code Yellow - Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment

  • Even if the horse does not appear to be lame to you.

Anatomically, the fetlock joint is not really the horse’s ankle at all. It is the metacarpo-phalangeal joint of the forelimb- the equivalent of your middle (upper) knuckle joint. (The hind limb fetlock is the equivalent of the middle metatarso-phalangeal joint at the front of your foot.) The fetlock is an extremely dynamic and sensitive joint- a very high-motion, critical component of the intricate mechanism of the lower limb of the horse.

Swellings around or involving the fetlock are common. In the horse world, swellings here are often known as “wind puffs”, “wind galls” or “road puffs.”

In performance horses, benign swellings develop over time and are usually not cause for worry. These are the so called wind puffs and they are usually present in multiple limbs and tend to be more obvious in the hind limbs. These swellings should be cool to the touch, non-painful and not be accompanied by lameness.

In contrast, one-sided swellings that appear suddenly, are warm to the touch, are accompanied by lameness and possibly reduced range of motion, or poor performance raise greater concern and need to be evaluated by your vet. Injuries do occur here, and they can be serious. It is important to know that there are two structures at the fetlock that usually become filled with fluid: the fetlock joint itself and the digital flexor tendon sheath. Swelling in one or the other of these structures means something different.

WHAT TO DO

Always rest a horse with a potentially injured leg until your vet can assess the problem. Assess the affected area yourself, feeling for heat, a pain response to pressure or flexion of the limb, reduced range of motion, or any other abnormalities. Send a photo of the swelling to your vet.

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the rectal temperature, degree of lameness at the walk and the trot. and the specific features of the swelling. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

Given the importance of the structures in this area, let your vet help you determine whether your horse needs to be examined.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet recognizes specific swelling patterns that may suggest involvement of the fetlock joint, flexor tendon sheath or other important structures in the area. The degree of lameness and response to flexion are important indicators of the nature of injury. Radiography and ultrasound are commonly used to define and differentiate injuries to this area.

POSSIBLE TREATMENTS or TherapiesTo Lessen or Resolve the Sign

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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