Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Swelling of Upper Front 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 there is severe lameness accompanying this sign.
  • 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.

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

  • Even if the horse does not appear to be lame to you.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

The upper limb above the carpus (knee) is composed mostly of the large forearm muscles. Under those muscles lie the radius (forearm) bone. Above this still is the elbow and shoulder joints. Bone, nerves and vessels are near the skin on the inside of the upper limb, whereas the front, back and outside of the upper limb are protected by heavy muscle. Due to this muscular protection, upper forelimb injuries are generally less serious and less common than lower limb injuries.

Swelling of the upper limb is usually caused by direct trauma such as a kick from another horse. However swelling of the upper limb can also occur as a result of injuries sustained nearby, on the forearm, the lower limb, the trunk, chest or armpit.

Bacterial infections in the chest or armpit (Pigeon Fever) can cause swelling of the upper front limb by extension. Pay special attention to any swelling right at or above the carpus and whether there is lameness associated with the swelling.

WHAT TO DO

Assess your horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the affected limb. An important question is whether there is lameness and if so, its severity. Gently feel the lower limb, belly, chest and armpit for injury, swelling or a pain response. Try to move the limb forward and to the side. Assess the horse at the walk looking for and quantifying the degree of lameness. Contact your vet with your findings and concerns.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet will evaluate the area and should be able to identify the cause. Because of the mass of the upper limb, in some cases, the diagnosis can be surprisingly difficult. Radiographs and ultrasound are commonly used and may be helpful diagnostically.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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