Horse Side Vet Guide ®

Equine Health Resource

Face or Head Seems Swollen or Enlarged

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.

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

  • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

Swelling of the head and/or face is caused by a variety of disease processes.

Dental conditions commonly cause swelling on one side, while a nutritional deficit such as Big Head or Bran Disease, commonly causes generalized swelling of the facial bones of the skull. Other disease processes cause swelling of the whole head. There is even a rare condition that causes swelling of both cheeks (masseter myositis).

WHAT TO DO

Stand directly in front of the horse and carefully study their face and head to determine whether the swelling is present on one or both sides, and what part of the face or head is affected.

Assess the horse’s general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying special attention to rectal temperature, attitude, appetite, and the horse’s ability to breath, eat and drink.

Consider how severe the swelling is and how rapidly it is changing. Evaluate the skin using good light, looking for evidence of trauma, puncture wounds or spots of blood that could indicate a snake bite.

If your horse is showing any other signs of illness or abnormalities, or if the swelling appears to interfere with your horse’s ability to breath, contact your vet immediately.

WHAT YOUR VET DOES

Using physical exam and careful examination of the head, your vet will try to determine the nature of the disease process causing the swelling.

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP

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