Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Swelling of One Lower Limb or Leg

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 lameness is noticeable at the walk.
  • If severe and obvious lameness is visible at the walk.

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

  • If there is modest or little lameness but significant swelling.
  • Even if the horse does not appear to be lame to you.
  • If the lameness is mild.

Swelling of a single lower limb typically indicates injury to that leg. Swelling can ascend up the limb from a problem within the foot, or can descend down the limb from an injury higher up the limb. Swelling in the lower limb is a non-specific sign of many different types of injuries. It warrants a closer look.

WHAT TO DO

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the presence or absence of fever, and lameness visible at the walk. Compare the look and feel of that limb to the others. Look carefully for any breaks in the skin or hair loss indicating injury.

Flex the lower joints and notice whether there is a pain response. Always check the sole of the hoof, and assess for digital pulse and heat in the hoof. Gently press the whole swollen part with your fingers, looking for a pain response. Move the horse in left and right circles, at the walk, to assess degree of lameness. (It is best not to evaluate the horse at the trot. Depending upon the nature of the injury, this could worsen it.)

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

If swelling is mild and the horse seems otherwise normal, your vet may suggest ways for you to treat symptomatically, rest the horse, and monitor for improvement. Confinement to a small area, cold water hosing and supportive bandaging may all be beneficial.

Your vet carefully assesses the swelling and considers the anatomy involved and nature of the injury. They will evaluate the degree of lameness and discuss whether further diagnostics might be necessary to more clearly understand the injury.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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