What you see. The starting point for addressing any equine health related issue is your observation.


Soft Swelling of Skin, Crackles when Pressed


Soft puffy air-filled swellings under the skin often occur as a complication to upper limb, armpit (axilla), or groin (inguinal area), wounds. A one-way valve develops, and air is pumped under the skin into the wound bed as the horse walks. In extreme cases, the entire body can inflate like a balloon. The air does not cause a problem. When the valve effect stops, the air is gradually absorbed.

However, bacterial infection of tissues with gas production can also result in a soft swelling with crackly skin. Wounds to the trachea, windpipe, or a penetrating wound into the lung may also appear similar. These types of wounds can be life-threatening and require immediate veterinary assessment.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours

your role


What To Do

Confine your horse to a box stall to keep walking to a minimum. Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), and share your findings and concerns with your vet.

What Not To Do

Do not walk or exercise your horse, keep their movement to a minimum until they are evaluated by your vet.

your vet's role

If this observation is associated with a new wound, talk to your vet about whether they need to examine and treat it.

If this observation is associated with a healing wound that your vet has already evaluated, talk to your vet about developing a plan to reduce movement or air flow by repairing it surgically or packing it. They may need to examine it again to ensure it is healing properly.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Is there a wound in either the armpit, groin or upper limb?
  • Is there a wound to chest or neck?
  • Does the wound seem to be healing?
  • Is the horse walking well, and eating and drinking normally?
  • Does your horse seem normal otherwise?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP