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


Swelling, Anywhere on Body, Generally


I included this record to provide you with more information on the process of swelling itself.

Swelling occurs for a variety of reasons. Trauma, inflammation, infection, cancer and hernias are just a few reasons for swelling. Keep in mind that swelling is the body's normal response to a variety of insults. Swelling from injury occurs because vessels are damaged, allowing fluid out into the tissues. Swelling from inflammation occurs when vessels become leaky and blood flow increases to an inflamed area.

Swellings over the abdomen have the potential to involve breaks in the body wall (hernias). Large hard swellings may be hematomas or abscesses. Soft, fluid containing swellings may be seromas. Swelling that has the consistency of dough and pits with digital pressure is likely an edema.

The key to identifying the potential causes of swelling is the location and anatomic structures involved.

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If you notice lameness in addition to this sign.
    • 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 Yellow

    Contact Your Vet at Your Convenience for an Appointment
    • 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

Assess your horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) and assess the affected area. When you assess the swelling carefully compare one side of the body to the other for reference. As you feel the swelling, consider it's consistency: Is it jiggly, firm, or doughy? Does the horse respond in pain when you press on it? Does the skin around the area of swelling feel warmer than other areas? Send a photo to your vet being sure to include some landmarks so the location and size is evident.

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 evaluates a swelling in terms of its location and anatomic structures involved. By careful observation and palpation of a swelling, vets can often determine the nature and potential severity of a swelling. Needle aspiration and ultrasound are two diagnostics that are of great help in determining the nature of any swelling.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • How large is it?
  • Where specifically is the swelling?
  • When did you first notice the swelling?
  • Does pressure on the area seem to cause the horse pain or discomfort?
  • Does it feel like it contains fluid?
  • Is the swelling solid?
  • Is the swelling soft or firm?
  • What does the swelling feel like?
  • Is the swelling getting better or worse?
  • Can you send me a photo?
  • Do you know what might have caused the swelling?
  • 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.

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