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


Single Lump or Swelling on Lower Limb or Leg


This refers to a very well-defined lump of swelling on the lower limb (i.e. anything below the hock in the hind limb or carpus in the forelimb).

Take a look at the anatomy of a particular area that is swollen. As you can see there are many structures there, and swelling could involve any of them, including the skin.

Bony bumps on the inside and outside of the back aspect of the cannon bones are common in horses, and are usually associated with a splint bone injury. When the splint itself or the ligament securing it to the cannon bone becomes injured or irritated, it forms a characteristic firm knot. However, this observation can also be associated with injuries to the cannon bone itself or the suspensory ligament or other structures.

Swellings around the fetlock can involve the joint, tendons or tendon sheath.

Hard bumps around the pastern can be traumatic injuries to skin but can be a sign of arthritis of the pastern joint (ringbone).

Bony lumps around the hock of the hind limb, or around the carpus of the front limb may be associated with arthritis and other joint injuries.

NEVER purchase a horse with a swelling here without a veterinary pre-purchase exam!

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • If the horse seems particularly distressed by the problem.
    • If severe and obvious lameness is visible at the walk.
  • Code Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If there is modest or little lameness but significant swelling.
    • If there is mild lameness accompanying this sign.
  • 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 you do not notice lameness or pain, only a swelling.
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.

your role


What To Do

Assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying particular attention to the affected area- is there heat or pain to touch? Carefully compare it to the opposite limb. A very important question is always whether the horse is lame. Assess lameness at the walk and trot.

Place pressure on the area, and pay attention to your horse's response. If pressure does not elicit a response, the area is not hot, and your horse is not lame, then this may be a chronic and less significant problem.

If pressure on this area causes a response, there is heat in the area, or your horse is lame, it may be a more recent problem and of greater concern. Consider the anatomy of a particular area that is swollen. As you can see, there are many structures in the lower limb, and swelling could involve any of them. Share your findings and concerns with your vet.

NEVER purchase a horse with a swelling here without a veterinary pre-purchase exam!

What Not To Do

NEVER purchase a horse with a swelling here without a veterinary pre-purchase exam!

your vet's role

Your vet evaluates the swelling to determine the severity of this condition and the structures involved. More information can often be acquired using radiography, ultrasound or other diagnostics.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • Where specifically is the swelling?
  • Is the horse limping or lame?
  • If the horse is lame, how lame?
  • Is the bump firm or soft?
  • Does it hurt the horse when you apply pressure to it?
  • Can you send me a photo?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?

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
more diagnoses

further reading & resources

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP