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Equine Health Resource

Swelling on Chest

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    The chest is an area that often swells obviously when injured, due to the loose tissue there and its low anatomical position. It is a common site for a kick from another horse, causing a serum or blood filled swelling (seroma or hematoma). Swelling (edema) can also gather under the chest from injury or inflammation towards the rear on the girth or abdomen.

    A swelling on a horse’s chest is also a classic sign of Pigeon Breast, a bacterial infection that results in an abscess filled with pus. A swelling associated with Pigeon Breast is usually hot and hard and over a fairly large area, and tends to slowly increase in size over days (until they rupture or are drained).

    Horses with Pigeon Breast also tend to run a mild fever. In contrast, a hematoma (accumulation of blood) feels like a more defined tight ball, and a seroma is usually thin-walled with a soft, fluidy (fluctuant) feel. Edema may feel like loose jiggly tissue between the front limbs.


    Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to temperature, general attitude and appetite, and lameness at the walk. Assess the swelling to determine how it feels. Is it hard, hot, painful, or does it feel more like a fluid filled balloon? Send a photo to your vet.

    If you notice any drainage from the area, wear latex gloves and consider the drainage contagious. Wash your hands well after handling the horse and try to contain and dispose of any obvious drainage.


    Your vet uses their general exam, exam of the area and possibly other diagnostics (like ultrasound and needle aspiration of the center of the swelling) to determine the nature of the swelling and the best treatment plan.

    Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP


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