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


Soft, Jiggly Swelling Between Front Legs


A soft swelling between the front legs is usually edema (fluid within tissue planes) that has settled here from an injury elsewhere. In the chest area, the skin and underlying connective tissues are very loose, and so when edema accumulates here it is "jiggly" or pendulous. this is in contrast to firm, doughy "pitting edema" on the ventral midline (lower belly), where the skin is very tight.

Normal late-term, heavily pregnant mares with ventral edema often show swelling here that has spread forward between the forelegs. This typically disappears within a day or two after foaling. In a very fat horse, swelling here can be fat.

  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If you feel the problem is severe or has come on suddenly.
    • If the area seems painful to the touch.
    • 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 Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
    • If the swelling is mild or moderate, and not increasing rapidly.
    • If the area does not seem to be painful.
  • Code Green

    Contact Your Vet to Obtain Useful Advice & Resources
    • You have any concerns about the late-term pregnant mare.
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

Assess the horse's overall health with the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to rectal temperature and movement at the walk. Look for swelling or hair loss over the body, or on the belly and chest that might indicate an injury. In male horses, feel the sheath. Assess the limbs for swelling. Assess lameness at the walk to determine that the horse is moving normally.

Expect this swelling in late-term pregnant mares, as an extension of ventral edema of pregnancy. Look for swelling or injury further back on your horse's belly, an inflamed sheath, evidence of trauma to the chest, or even injury to a front limb that has ascended to the armpit.

What Not To Do

Do not assume that the problem involves injury to the local tissues, although it might be. Do not give the horse diuretics or other medications without first consulting your vet. Do not attempt to lance a swelling without veterinary guidance.

your vet's role

Your vet will perform a physical exam to determine the nature of the swelling. In some cases, they may recommend blood work to detect an infection or assess organ function. Once the inciting cause is treated, this edema usually goes away quickly.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Does the horse show a pain response when you apply pressure to the area?
  • Does the area feel soft or firm?
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Is this a pregnant mare?
  • Can you find swelling, injury, wound anywhere else that might be leading to this?
  • Does the horse's appetite and attitude seem normal?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

The cause of the problem. These are conditions or ailments that are the cause of the observations you make.

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Treatments Your Vet May Recommend

A way to resolve the condition or diagnosis. Resolving the underlying cause or treating the signs of disease (symptomatic treatment)

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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP