Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Swelling on Side of Jowl or Cheek

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 the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) in the resting horse indicate fever (Temp>101F/38.3C), or heart rate greater than 48 BPM.
  • If you feel the problem is severe or has come on suddenly.

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

  • If the problem is very mild and does not seem to be causing much harm to the horse.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

Swelling of the jowl or side of the cheek can occur for a variety of reasons, most commonly dental disease of the lower jaw molars (cheek teeth). Horses with displaced molars and other dental conditions will often pocket feed between the row of cheek teeth and the cheek. This appears as a bump on the side of the cheek, in line with the mouth.

Trauma, infection, abscesses, facial nerve paralysis and a variety of other conditions can also cause this problem. Be sure that there is not swelling or drainage directly under the jaw. If there is, this could be Strangles, a potentially contagious problem.

WHAT TO DO

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), and assess the mouth (wear gloves). Diagnosis of conditions causing swelling of this area can be challenging. You can look in your horse’s mouth and try to identify hay or feed packed between the cheek and teeth. Be careful, because you can easily be bitten if you try to remove feed from this area.

Gently assess the swollen area, noting its size, firmness, existence of heat, pain response, and whether there is a wound or any drainage. If your horse shows any other signs of illness or abnormalities, or if the swelling has not subsided in 24 hours, they should be examined by your vet promptly.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet may first try to discern whether there is an accumulation of feed in this area and will look for dental issues. A physical exam helps put the problem in context. Dental infections can be difficult to diagnose and require radiography and other diagnostics.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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