Causes of Swollen Leg in Horses

If you wish to have a horse as a pet, then you can check the horse breeds for horse riding. One of the problems a horse may have is swollen leg. Swollen leg in horses, or also known as ‘filing’, is a condition which is a result of one or more legs becoming swollen.

There are some causes of it, some may be minor and some other may be serious. Swelling of the leg or legs in horses may be present in one single leg or even all four.

Swollen legs in horses is a serious problem. Since the legs are in the lower part of the body of the horse, fluid can build up due to the leaking of fluid from blood vessels and tissues.

This is also called edema, and can occur due to several issues, such as cut or scratch or even cellulitis or lymphangitis.

When a horse experience swollen legs, it may show some symptoms, such as the swollen leg joints, painful limbs, loss of appetite, fever, legs are warm to touch, difficult to walk, lameness and lethargy.

As an owner, you need to be aware of this condition. One of the ways is finding the root cause of the problem. Let’s discuss further about the causes of swollen legs in horses.

Causes of swollen legs in horses:

  • Lack of exercise (stocking up) – the horse may be kept in a stall overnight
  • Trauma – caused by blunt, fracture or open wound
  • Infections – either bacterial and viral
  • Excessive protein in the diet
  • Overfeeding
  • Obesity
  • Insect bite
  • Scrapes
  • Inflammation of the skin
  • Kidney disease
  • Heart failure
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Damaged nerves
  • Damage to or blockage of the lymphatic vessels
  • Malnutrition
  • Hot weather
  • Allergic reaction – cause swelling to occur suddenly rather than persistently
  • Inflammation of vessels
  • Inflammation of the tissue
  • Bruising
  • Skin overexposure to moisture
  • Cellulitis
  • Lymphangitis

Swollen legs which are caused by cellulitis or lymphangitis result most commonly from a break in the skin’s protective barrier. This allows the bacteria to enter the body. As a result, the bacteria establish an infection in the skin’s dermal and subcutaneous layer, and then cellulitis is formed.

If the infection continues and progresses to involve the lymphatic system, then it will become lymphangitis. Both of them are serious problems and potentially life-threatening diseases that need to be addressed immediately by your veterinarian.

In places with wet climates, horses are housed on wet pastures or in muddy paddocks. This means their skin will be continuously exposed to moisture.

This condition creates the same type of hyper hydration effect (when you notice your wrinkled fingertips after spending too much time in bath).

To treat swollen legs, you can directly contact your vet for further treatment. However, for some mild cases of swollen legs, you can do some of the following ways to treat it. Here they are:

  • Cold water – you can simply hose your horse’s legs with cold water or alternate ice compresses with heat. Both ways will help ease the swelling.
  • Treating abscesses – abscesses may occur from scratches, bites or other trauma. Your veterinarian may want to drain any abscess your horse may have in his lower legs. You can help thoroughly cleanse the affected area by using an antiseptic your vet recommends.
  • Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory – these will be prescribed by your veterinarian. Those two are used to treat the infection, pain, and swelling. You may be suggested to do a regular massage to stimulate the circulation too. Antibiotics should only be given by vets. You can read more about side effects of giving antibiotics to your pet dog.

Swelling in a single leg may be a signal of a serious condition. However, you have to be really aware if the swelling occurs in all four legs.

Your horse may have some type of systemic illness. It could also a sign of heart problem, kidney or liver disease or any infection.

That’s why it is the best to call the vet immediately once you notice any swollen leg in your horse, so that any prevention can be made.

You could also read more about horses by knowing the ways to make your horse coat extremely shiny and get rid of horse fleas.

If you love horse riding, you can also spend reading useful tips to make sure you ride a horse properly.