Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Stifle Area Seems Swollen

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 severe lameness accompanies 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

  • If there is modest or little lameness but significant swelling.
  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

When I was a very young vet, one of the first mistakes I made was to over-interpret the appearance and feel of the stifle area of a very lame horse. I was convinced that the horse had injured its stifle, when in fact it had a hoof abscess. It was a good lesson for me.

The stifle is a large and complex, high-motion joint surrounded by heavy muscle. In the non weight-bearing horse, the stifle is very hard to assess, even for vets. It can appear swollen when it is not. Compounding this is the fact that many horses resent being touched in this area, so it can be challenging to assess pain to touch.

True swelling of the stifle area can be associated with a variety of underlying problems, from traumatic injury to OCD to infection. The biggest question is always whether or not the swelling is within or outside of the joint, and whether the horse is lame. This determination requires your vet’s expertise.

WHAT TO DO

Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the feel of the swelling, and the presence of heat or pain. Assess for lameness at the walk and pay attention to the stride length at the walk. Take a photo, trying hard to have the horse bearing weight when you do.

When evaluating an apparently swollen stifle area, always try to get the horse standing squarely behind. If the horse is very lame and will not bear weight on the limb, you cannot assess the stifle area well. You should be cautious of assuming that the area is really swollen. Always compare the look and feel of the apparently abnormal stifle area to the opposite side.

Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Your vet will evaluate the limb, and palpate the structures in the stifle area to distinguish normal from abnormal. Joint blocks, radiography and ultrasound are the most common diagnostics that help provide more information.

POSSIBLE TREATMENTS or TherapiesTo Lessen or Resolve the Sign

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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