Understanding Wind Puffs in Horses

Wind puffs are a common form of blemish found in horses. Many horses may develop windpuffs after years of work. Understanding wind puffs in horses will help you know how to best treat your horse.

Any horse that is in a continuous training program may be susceptible to wind puffs. Older horses that have had sports careers are more prone to develop wind puffs. They are a common occurrence in horses and are often nothing more than a blemish.

What is a Wind Puffs in Horses?

A wind puff is a fluid-filled soft swelling located around the back of the fetlock joint. They result from fluid distention of the digital flexor tendon sheath, also known as DFTS or the fetlock joint capsule. They generally form after years of steady work, which is why they are most often found in older horses.

Wind puffs develop from an accumulation of fluid in the digital flexor tendon sheath. The digital flexor tendon sheath allows for frictionless movement as the tendons cross the bony protrusions of the fetlock joint, as it serves as a protective function.

As time passes, the reoccurring gliding of the tendons over these bony surfaces can lead to the naturally occurring fluid in the digital flexor tendon sheath to increase. This can lead to puffy appearance; hence the name wind puffs.

If the fluid fills in the fetlock joint capsule, a discrete round wind puff approximately the diameter of a quarter will appear. It will be located behind the cannon bone, just under the end of the splint bone. When there is more fluid, it will have a tighter feel and be under more pressure.

Generally, wind puffs, also known as windgalls, are found on the back legs, however, they can also occur on the front legs. If the wind puffs your horse has is bilaterally symmetric windpuffs with no heat, pain, injury or previous lameness, they will likely not affect a horse in any way. However, it is still important to check with your veterinarian that your horse has no complications from wind puffs.

It can be a concern if only one leg has wind puffs, as it may be something more serious. However, if it is bilaterally symmetric wind puffs, it is generally not something you need to be concerned about.

Caring for Wind Puffs in Horses

Typically, there is not much you can do to prevent wind puffs from occurring in horses. A horse that has a long career is likely to develop them at an older age, regardless of proper care.

Once a wind puff has been spotted, there is not much to be done to fix them. Bandaging and sweats can help temporarily relieve the effusion, however, the effusion will typically come back a few hours after removing the bandage. Turnout can help when your horse has wind puffs.

If your horse is showing discomfort from wind puffs, allow for your horse to be on stall rest for a day, followed by cold water hosing and ice wraps, as this will at least temporarily help your horse. You should light walk your horse and refrain from any heavy work for a few days.

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It is always a good idea to contact your veterinarian when your horse has a wind puff, especially if you notice any heat, changes or new swelling in the wind puff. Your veterinarian will likely perform a physical exam if there are changes to your horse’s wind puffs and may even perform a lameness exam on your horse’s legs, which may include an ultrasound or an x-ray.

How To Deal Wind Puffs

An ultrasound will show any changes that may occur in soft tissues such as tendons and ligaments. An x-ray will show any changes in joints and bones. If the results come back normal, there will likely be no treatment needed for the wind puffs as long as no changes occur.

Sometimes wind puffs can even result from something the horse’s environment, such as their shoes or footing they are working on. They can even be an indication of another injury. A horse’s conformation may even play a role in their likelihood of developing windpuffs.  

Some owners wish to lessen the appearance of wind puffs for cosmetic reasons. However, most treatments for cosmetic purposes will only decrease the effusion of the wind puff for a few days and the wind puff will return to its normal size within a couple of weeks.

Further Treatment of Wind Puffs in Horses

If there is found to be swelling of the joint, a rigorous course of anti-inflammatory therapy with icing is suggested, as it may be synovitis. Your veterinarian may also prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs or the use of injectable or oral hyaluronic acid can also be used to calm the inflammation.

Further Treatment of Wind Puffs in Horses

In some cases, your veterinarian may recommend a specific exercise regime for your horse. However, stall rest followed by low-level exercise for a few weeks is the typical protocol.

A Common Condition

Wind puffs are a common condition in horses. They are most commonly found in older horses that have had continuous work throughout their life. Any horse can be prone to developing wind puffs.

Generally, once a horse has wind puff there is not much you can do to fix them. There are treatments, such as bandaging or icing that may help. Wind puffs will likely go back effusion shortly after treating them.

If you do notice extra swelling, heat, and lameness in your horse’s windpuffs, you should contact your veterinarian, as it may be a sign of something more serious that needs to be addressed. Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and may even perform an x-ray and/or ultrasound to see any underlying issues.

Generally, you do not need to panic if your horse develops wind puffs, as they are most commonly just a blemish and will not affect your horse. Most horses that have wind puffs will not need any treatment.  However, you should watch your horse’s wind puffs to make sure they do not lead to other problems.

Please comment if you have any questions on wind puffs or have any remarks regarding this post!

FAQs

Why does my horse have wind puffs?

Wind puffs are small skin lesions that occur on the underside of the forelimb. They are usually circular and look like a pimple, but are not painful. In horses with wind puffs, they usually appear on the dorsal (back) side of the forelimb.
If your horse has wind puffs on his forelimbs, it is most likely due to an injury or overuse of his forelimb. The wind puffs could be a result of an injury or inflammation of the tendon sheath, as well as genetic predisposition to this condition.

Are wind puffs bad on horses?

Wind puffs are harmless fluid swellings of the tendon sheath or joint capsule of the horse's ankle. They are not a sign of lameness or pain and there is no need to treat them. 
However, wind puffs can be a sign of inflammation and swelling around the joint and can indicate joint problems. They develop when there is a sudden increase in pressure inside the tendon sheath, which normally keeps the joint capsule tight. Wind puffs may develop in horses with a history of joint injury. They may also occur with exercise-induced overuse of the joint. Despite all this it is very unlikely that the wind puffs have any significance as a prognostic indicator for future lameness or injury.

Should I buy a horse with wind puffs?

That is a question only you can answer after careful evaluation of the horse. If you are unsure whether the wind puffs are a problem, ask your vet to examine the horse. It is a good idea to consult a veterinarian who has experience with horses, particularly if you are buying a horse from a private owner or seller.
It is most likely that wind puffs will not bother the horse in the long term. It's only in acute cases that treatment may be needed to decrease the chance of lameness in the future.

How do you treat wind puffs on horses?

Whereas there is no need to treat wind puffs, there are a number of ways you can support the horse during the healing process.
Bandaging: A bandage may help prevent the wind puffs from getting worse by holding pressure against the area.
Hot/cold therapy. A hot or cold compress can be applied to the horse's tendon sheath to help reduce inflammation and swelling. It is most effective when it is applied to the affected area several times a day. You can use cold therapy in the form of ice packs or frozen gel packs.
Hyaluronic acid injections: If the inflammation and swelling around the joint has become more severe, you might be able to help it with a hyaluronic acid injection.

Can wind puffs cause lameness?

Wind puffs are fluid swellings in the tendon sheaths that make the legs of a horse look swollen or puffy. This swelling is not accompanied by pain or fever, and it doesn't normally cause lameness.

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