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


Swelling on Side of Jowl or Cheek


Swelling of the jowl or side of the cheek can occur for a variety of reasons, most commonly dental disease of the lower jaw molars (cheek teeth). Horses with displaced molars and other dental conditions will often pack a tight wad of feed between the row of cheek teeth and the cheek. This appears as a bump on the side of the cheek, in line with the mouth.

Trauma, infection, abscesses, facial nerve paralysis and a variety of other conditions can also cause similar looking swellings.

  • Code Orange

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

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • If the problem is very mild and does not seem to be causing much harm to the horse.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
You also might be observing
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your role


What To Do

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), and assess the mouth (wear gloves). Diagnosis of conditions causing swelling of this area can be challenging. You can look in your horse's mouth and try to identify hay or feed packed between the cheek and teeth. Be careful, because you can easily be bitten if you try to remove feed from this area.

Gently assess the swollen area, noting its size, firmness, existence of heat, pain response, and whether there is a wound or any drainage. If your horse shows any other signs of illness or abnormalities, or if the swelling has not subsided in 24 hours, they should be examined by your vet promptly. Be sure that there is not swelling or drainage directly under the jaw. If there is, this could be Strangles, a potentially contagious problem, and you would want to try to prevent disease transmission to other horses.

What Not To Do

Do not ever attempt to lance, open or drain any swelling unless advised to do so by your vet.

your vet's role

Your vet may first try to discern whether there is an accumulation of feed in this area and will look for dental issues. A physical exam helps put the problem in context. Dental infections can be difficult to diagnose and require radiography and other diagnostics.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How old is the horse?
  • When did you first notice the swelling?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Is the horse able to eat normally?
  • What is the horse's rectal temperature?
  • Did you attempt to look in the horse's mouth?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Has the horse had any dental or mouth issues that you are aware of?
  • What did you see when you looked in the horse's mouth?
  • Do you notice odor in the mouth?

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