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


Generalized Swelling of Throat Behind Jaw


Generalized swelling of the throat area (not a hard, well-defined lump) can result from a wide variety of disease processes that relate to the structures that reside there, including the salivary glands, lymph nodes, the guttural pouches, the pharynx and larynx. Problems with any of these structures can cause swelling in this area.

Importantly, severe swelling in this area can be associated with Strangles (horse distemper), a highly contagious bacterial respiratory disease. Strangles usually (but not always) also causes nasal discharge, cough and swellings (abscesses) in the lymph nodes under the jaw. These may eventually burst and exude a thick yellow pus. Other signs of Strangles usually include fever, depression, and poor appetite.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If there is severe swelling and your horse is making respiratory noise or seems to be having difficulty breathing.
    • 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 you consider this a chronic and relatively mild problem that is not changing rapidly.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

Given that Strangles is highly contagious, your first priority is to isolate or quarantine your horse until your vet can be sure this is not the diagnosis.

Evaluate 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 try to cut open (lance) and drain a swelling on the throat without veterinary supervision.

Do not transport a horse with throat or jaw swelling without veterinary assessment. They may be contagious to other horses.

your vet's role

Your vet uses history, physical examination, and other diagnostics to determine the nature of the swelling.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Do you notice the horse showing any other signs?
  • Does the horse's attitude and appetite seem normal?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Is the horse up-to-date on vaccinations, deworming and dentistry?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Does the horse show a pain response when you apply pressure to the area?

Diagnoses Your Vet May Consider

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

Very Common
Less Common
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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)

Very Common
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Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP