Swelling In Horses Legs – Causes And Treatments Explained!

Last Updated on January 5, 2023

Sudden or unexplained swelling in horses legs can be a big cause of concern for a horse owner. But, by understanding a little more about why horses legs tend to swell up, you can learn to accurately assess what the cause of the problem might be. Let’s take a look at the most common causes and treatments for swelling in horses legs!

What Causes Swelling In Horses Legs?

Swelling in horses legs is caused by a buildup of fluid, but there are many different reasons why this may happen. There are two main types of fluid that will build up within a swelling on a horses leg.

The first of these is fluid that is part of a natural inflammatory response to an injury. This could be a cut, skin abrasion, kick injury, or any other type of wound. As in humans, when horses get injured, inflammation occurs around the site of the injury.

Inflammation is a completely normal bodily response and is the first stage in the healing process. However, in some situations, this swelling can become so excessive that it restricts the movement of the horse and can be very painful. Whilst inflammation as a short-term response is thought to be useful, long-term inflammation can be very detrimental to the horse and the healing process.

The second type of fluid that can occur in swollen horses legs is called lymphatic fluid. This is a normal part of the circulatory system which takes waste products away from the bloodstream and cellular structures. The lymphatic system is also responsible for regulating body water and helps to return fluid from cells to the circulatory system.

To understand why horses legs swell up so easily, we need to think about how the circulatory system is structured within the legs. The limbs of a horse have very little soft tissue. They consist mainly of bone, muscle and tendon overlaid with skin. Within this runs a delicate network of blood vessels and the lymphatic system.

The lymphatic system has a very hard job to do in the legs as it has to fight against gravity to move fluid back up towards the central body core. This is normally aided by the horse moving around, which helps to pump blood and lymphatic fluid back up the legs. When the horse is stationary for long periods, fluid will build up within the legs, causing them to swell.

This system can also easily become compromised by very minor injuries. Something as simple as a scab or a minor cut can restrict the flow of blood and lymph back up the leg. This is why you will often find swelling on a horses leg below the area of a cut or injury.

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How To Reduce Swelling In Horses Legs

The best method to use to reduce swelling in horse’s legs will depend on the cause of the swelling in the first place. If the swelling is a result of an injury, then veterinary advice should be sought to determine the best course of treatment. This is particularly important if the horse is demonstrating any signs of lameness, as this may indicate a fracture or septic wound infection.

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Swelling In Horses Legs

In horses that develop swollen legs without any lameness, the primary cause is normally a lack of movement. You will find this commonly happens when the horse has been confined to a barn or stable for long periods of time. In this situation, gentle walking or turning the horse out in a paddock should enable the swelling to quickly resolve.

How To Wrap A Horse’s Leg

In the past it was very common to wrap a horses leg to try and reduce swelling. However, nowadays it is not normally advised as incorrect wrapping or bandaging can do more harm than good. It is also often found that the swelling returns as soon as the wrapping is removed.

If you do wish to wrap your horses legs, it is vital to include a smooth padding layer underneath the bandages. Apply the bandage evenly, avoiding any lumps or bumps which may cause pressure points on the legs. If you have never applied a bandage to a horse before, it is a good idea to ask an expert to demonstrate this skill to you.

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How Long To Leave Poultice On Horse

Poultices are commonly used on wounds on horses to draw out infection. This includes wounds such as abscesses or puncture wounds. The action of a poultice is designed to draw liquid from inside the wound out onto the poultice.

The best poultice for horses will depend on the type of injury you are treating. Bentonite clay is a popular choice for treating swollen legs in horses, as it draws out excess fluid.

The clay is applied directly to the horse’s skin, and can be held in place with a bandage. It is then washed off around 12 hours later.

Abscesses in horse’s hooves are commonly treated with a gauze-type poultice soaked in warm water. This softens the hard hoof capsule and helps to draw the infected fluid out of the hoof. Wet poultices should never be used for more than three days, as they can cause other hoof problems such as thrush.

How Long To Leave Poultice On Horse

Summary – Swelling In Horses Legs

So, as we have learned, swelling in horses legs can occur for a variety of different reasons. Swelling can occur as part of an inflammatory response due to injury or infection. Horses’ legs may also become swollen when lymphatic fluid builds up within the tissues of the legs. It is important that the underlying cause of any swelling is identified before treatment is commenced.

We would love to hear your thoughts on the causes and best treatments for swelling in horses legs! Do you have a horse that inevitably gets swollen legs if it has to stand in the barn or stable for long periods? Or perhaps your horse has swelling on one leg and you are not quite sure what the cause is? Leave a comment below and we will get back to you!