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Equine Swollen Limbs – Types, Causes and Treatment 

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If you are a horse owner, you have probably noticed your horse’s legs swelling occasionally. Usually, a slight puffiness isn’t a big deal. But if the swelling persists, it could indicate a disease or infection.

This article will help you understand why your horse’s legs are swollen. You will also learn how to manage this swelling with air compression therapy and when it’s time to call the vet.

Causes of Swollen Legs or Limbs in Horses

There are multiple causes, including:

1. Trauma

  • Impact injuries from forceful blows cause damage and swelling
  • Injuries causing inflammation and fluid buildup (may involve edema)
  • Tendon, ligament, or joint injuries causing swelling and pain

2. Infectious Causes

  • Bacterial or viral infections leading to inflammation and fluid accumulation (may involve edema)
  • Abscesses (pus-filled swellings)

3. Circulatory Issues

  • Heart disease causing fluid backup in veins (can lead to edema in legs)

4. Chronic Conditions

  • Kidney disease disrupts the body’s ability to manage fluids (can lead to edema)
  • Liver disease disrupting protein balance leading to fluid leakage (can lead to edema)

5. Immune System Response

  • Insect bites causing localised swelling and irritation
  • Allergic reactions causing swelling (may involve edema)

6. Nutritional Imbalances

  • Deficiencies in electrolytes or protein leading to swelling (may involve edema)

7. Lymphatic System Issues

  • Chronic Progressive Lymphedema (CPL) causing persistent swelling (specific cause of leg edema)
  • Lymphangitis (inflammation of lymphatic vessels) causing swelling along their path (a specific cause of edema in legs)

Other Causes

  • Stocking up – Swelling in the lower legs due to inactivity and reduced circulation (a type of edema called stagnation edema)
  • Arthritis – Inflammation of one or more joints, causing swelling and pain (may cause swelling around the affected joint)
  • Degenerative Joint Disease (DJD) – Gradual deterioration of joints leading to swelling (may cause swelling around the affected joint)
  • Windgalls – Fluid-filled swellings around the fetlock joints (not necessarily edema)
  • Overexertion – Strenuous exercise causing temporary inflammation and swelling in the legs (not necessarily edema)

When to Call the Vet?

While some cases of leg swelling might resolve on their own, don’t ignore sudden or severe leg swelling in your horse. It’s best to call your vet if the swelling is rapid, hot to the touch, painful, accompanied by lameness or fever, or if it gets worse instead of better.

Treatment Options

Swollen legs in horses can be managed through a variety of therapeutic interventions. These interventions may include pharmacological management, dietary modifications, and physical rehabilitation. However, this article centers on compression therapy, a method that treats swelling by applying gentle external pressure. Most of the causes of leg swelling indicate fluid buildup or edema in horse legs. Compression therapy is best suited for managing this condition.

equine cta

How Does Compression Therapy Work?

It works by applying gentle, controlled pressure to the swollen area. This pressure helps:

  • Reduce Fluid Buildup – By applying pressure, air compression therapy prevents excess fluid from accumulating in the tissues.
  • Enhance Circulation – It improves blood flow and lymphatic drainage, promoting the removal of excess fluid and waste products.
  • Minimise Inflammation – Compression reduces inflammation, which can contribute to swelling and pain.

What Does Research Say About Compression Therapy?

Research was done to see if using an air compression sleeve device on horses’ front legs could help improve the flow of lymph fluid (which helps remove wastes and fluids from tissues) and reduce swelling. Researchers studied six healthy racehorses and used a special imaging technique to track the movement of a tracer fluid in the lymph pathways with and without compression from the sleeve. The results showed that when the air compression sleeves were used, the tracer fluid moved faster through the lymph vessels and reached key areas like the knee and elbow lymph nodes more quickly. This suggests that the compression helps push the lymph fluid through more efficiently. The study suggests pneumatic compression could benefit horses affected by lymphedema or lymphatic disorders, offering an alternative to traditional treatments like bandaging and exercise.

How to Use Compression Devices?

  1. Ensure the horse’s leg is clean and dry.
  2. If using wraps, follow the manufacturer’s instructions for proper application.
  3. The wrap should be snugged but not constricting.
  4. For boots, gently slide them onto the horse’s leg and secure them according to the manufacturer’s guidelines. The fit should be snug but comfortable.
  5. Monitor your horse while using compression therapy. Signs of discomfort like pawing or restlessness might indicate the wrap or boot is too tight.

From Where Can You Get the Best Compression Devices?

One leading compression therapy option is Recovery Systems’ Equine Air Compression Boots. These boots use pneumatic compression technology to reduce swelling and improve circulation, making them perfect for managing swelling in horses.

The battery-powered, portable design allows for use in various settings, providing flexibility for treatment. The adjustable leg wraps with velcro ensure a snug fit on the front or hind legs, accommodating different sizes. A water-resistant case makes it easy to carry the boots wherever needed.

Conclusion

Swelling in horses can be caused by various factors. While some cases might resolve on their own, veterinary attention is required to identify the underlying cause and implement proper treatment. Air Compression therapy manages it by reducing fluid buildup, enhancing circulation, and minimising inflammation.

People Also Ask

How do you treat pitting edema in horses?

Pitting edema is treated by addressing the underlying cause. Your veterinarian will recommend the most appropriate course of action. Compression therapy can help reduce fluid buildup and promote healing.

How many lymph nodes does a horse have?

Horses have around 8,000 lymph nodes throughout their bodies.

How to treat edema in horse chest?

To treat edema in a horse’s chest, consult a veterinarian for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan. Administer any prescribed medications, like anti-inflammatories or diuretics. Encourage light, controlled exercise, and gentle massage to improve circulation and lymphatic drainage. Ensure the horse has clean, dry bedding and a balanced diet to support recovery. Regularly monitor the horse’s condition and maintain follow-up appointments with the vet to adjust the treatment as needed.

How to treat edema on horse belly?

A little cold therapy with some hosing or supportive wraps can help in drainage. Gentle walking can help, too, just don’t overdo it. You may also want to adjust their diet – cut back on salt and boost the protein to discourage fluid retention. In stubborn cases, your vet might prescribe a diuretic to give your horse’s body a little extra nudge to flush out that lingering puffiness. Just stay on top of monitoring and tweaking the treatment plan until that belly slims back down to a healthy size. 

Should you wrap a horse’s swollen leg?

Wrapping can be helpful for fresh injuries to limit swelling, but go easy on the tension. For long-standing edema cases, wraps may trap fluid instead of reducing it. Better to use cold hosing or hand-walking. Either way, get your vet involved quickly, especially if it’s an acute injury or extreme swelling. They’ll diagnose the issue and advise if wrapping is recommended or if other therapies like meds or stall rest are needed. The key is managing inflammation quickly before the leg blows up like a balloon. 

What causes lymph nodes to swell in horses?

Those random bumps along your horse’s neck, jaw, or body are inflamed lymph nodes – usually a sign their immune system is fighting something. It could be anything from a minor respiratory bug or skin infection to more serious conditions like strangles, systemic infections, or even lymphoma cancer. The location of the swelling provides clues, like face/head nodes pointing to respiratory issues. If you notice those tell-tale bumps, get your horse checked out. 

Where are lymph nodes located in a horse?

Lymph nodes are found throughout a horse’s body, including the head, neck, chest, flank, and groin.

Why does my horse have a fat leg?

A fat or swollen leg on a horse can result from various causes:

  • Injury/trauma causing inflammation
  • Strained ligaments or tendons
  • Lymphedema (lymph fluid buildup)  
  • Cellulitis (bacterial skin infection)
  • Joint/bone issues like arthritis
  • Poor circulation
  • Excessive footwork or strenuous exercise

Why does my horse have a lump on her neck?

A lump on your horse’s neck could stem from an injury or insect bite, causing swelling and inflammation. It may also indicate an abscess or infection under the skin. Enlarged lymph nodes in the neck can also bulge when the horse’s immune system is battling illness. The lump might be a benign growth or cancerous tumour in less frequent cases. 

Why is my horse’s leg swollen but not hot?

While a hot, painful, swollen leg often indicates an active injury or infection, a cool, swollen leg in a horse can have various causes. It may be due to fluid accumulation from lymphedema, poor conformation leading to stocking up, a chronic issue like arthritis, medication side effects, or systemic health problems causing edema. Though not an emergency, it’s still wise to have your veterinarian examine the leg to determine the underlying reason and provide proper treatment, as unresolved swelling can worsen if left unaddressed.

What are the different types of edemas in horses?

There are two main types of edema in horses:

  1. Pitting Edema

This is the more common type. If you press on the swollen area with your finger, this type will leave a temporary indentation, like a ‘’pit’’ in the dough. This happens because the fluid is relatively loose and easily displaced. Pitting edema can be a sign of inflammation or local injury.

  1. Dependent Edema

This type of swelling occurs due to gravity. In horses, dependent edema typically affects the lower legs after prolonged standing or lying down. The fluid accumulates at the lowest points due to gravity pressure. While dependent edema isn’t necessarily a cause for alarm, its awareness can help differentiate it from other types of swelling.