Noticed Swelling? Take These 5 Steps Before You Panic

Noticing swelling in your horse’s leg might send you into a panic. But before you spiral, take these 5 steps to solve the problem. As always, check with your vet if you find evidence of injury or the swelling persists.

If you notice swelling, don’t panic – try these steps first and call your vet for further concerns. Henk Vrieselaar/adobe.stock.com

First, isolate your horse to minimize risk of further injury. Whether this means you have a stall he can relax in, or a pen away from other rambunctious horses, it’ll be easiest to manage the situation if he is alone for the time being. It’s a good idea to minimize his movement as well, while you figure out what is causing the swelling. Opt for a stall or small pen to limit his ability to run, buck, and play which could exacerbate the issue.

The next step is to check for any visible signs of injury. Give your horse a thorough exam to rule out signs of obvious injury. Look for blood, puncture wounds, matted hair, and noticeable heat. Then, further assess the situation by checking his body language for signs of pain. Is he eating? Does he seem distressed? Is he noticeably limping? Is there swelling in other areas, or is it limited to one spot?

Continue your assessment by checking his other vital signs. Give his gums a quick capillary refill test. Check his temperature, and assess his overall health to determine if this is an isolated incident, or indicative of a larger problem. This is also why it’s important to know your horse’s baseline vital signs. If his respiratory rate is raised, he might be in pain or distress.

[Learn How to Check Your Horse’s Vital Signs]

If you’ve ruled out major injury, and are ready to try a simple treatment, cold therapy can be beneficial to swelling. Any time you notice an injury early on (within 48 hours of onset), ice is your best friend. Applied during an injury’s acute (early) stage, ice helps “shrink” blood vessels that swell and leak during the process known as inflammation. In fact, icing – especially during that critical 48 hours post-injury–can go a long way toward reducing the severity of a soft-tissue injury. Apply cold to the affected area for around 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day.

If there is evidence of an obvious injury, your horse is showing noticeable signs of limping or pain, or you’re not sure how to proceed; it’s time to call your vet. They can provide a proper diagnosis and recommend specific treatment options based on the cause and severity of the swelling.

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