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


Face or Head Seems Swollen or Enlarged


Swelling of the head and/or face is caused by a variety of disease processes.

Dental conditions commonly cause swelling on one side, while a nutritional deficit such as Big Head or Bran Disease, commonly causes generalized swelling of the facial bones of the skull. Other disease processes cause swelling of the whole head. There is even a rare condition that causes swelling of both cheeks (masseter myositis).

  • Code Red

    Call Your Vet Immediately, Even Outside Business Hours
    • 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 Orange

    Call Your Vet at Their First Available Office Hours
    • If the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE) suggest the horse is otherwise normal.
You also might be observing
Very Common
Less Common
more observations

your role


What To Do

Stand directly in front of the horse and carefully study their face and head to determine whether the swelling is present on one or both sides, and what part of the face or head is affected.

Assess the horse's general health using the Whole Horse Exam (WHE), paying special attention to rectal temperature, attitude, appetite, and the horse's ability to breath, eat and drink.

Consider how severe the swelling is and how rapidly it is changing. Evaluate the skin using good light, looking for evidence of trauma, puncture wounds or spots of blood that could indicate a snake bite.

If your horse is showing any other signs of illness or abnormalities, or if the swelling appears to interfere with your horse's ability to breath, contact your vet immediately.

What Not To Do

Do not stand directly in front of the horse to evaluate their head and neck unless you can do so safely.

your vet's role

Using physical exam and careful examination of the head, your vet will try to determine the nature of the disease process causing the swelling.
Questions Your Vet Might Ask:
  • Can you see drainage or a wound?
  • When did you first notice this?
  • Is there any nasal discharge and if so, what is it's appearance?
  • What is the horse's age, sex, breed and history?
  • Does the horse show pain when pressure is applied to the area?
  • What are the results of the Whole Horse Exam (WHE)?
  • Have you given any medications to the horse, what and when?
  • What is the horse's diet?
  • When did you first notice this problem?
  • How old is the horse?

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

Author: Doug Thal DVM Dipl. ABVP