Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Swelling on One Side of Head or Face

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 the swelling is large, painful or growing rapidly.
  • 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 the horse seems to be having difficulty eating, in addition to showing this sign.

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

  • If you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

Swellings on the side of the head or face can be caused by a variety of disease processes. Firm bony swellings on the side of the face are often presumed to be caused by dental disease until proven otherwise.

Traumatic swellings of the face due to trauma are common because of the horse’s power, speed, and strong flight response.

WHAT TO DO

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE). Gently assess the swollen area noting its size, firmness, existence of heat, pain response, and whether there is any drainage. Consider whether there is nasal discharge or you note any smell. If your horse shows any other signs of illness or abnormalities, or if the swelling has not subsided in 24 hours, contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet considers the nearby anatomic structures that might be involved in the swelling. They assess general health with a physical exam, and may assess the mouth, looking for teeth that might be involved in whatever process is causing the swelling. Other diagnostics like x-ray (radiology) and less commonly, ultrasound may be needed to reach a diagnosis.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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