First aid essentials — dealing with swelling

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Swelling in a horse’s leg can be caused by fluid accumulation, infection or injury. Carl Hester’s head groom Alan Davies explains what action to take when faced with distended limbs.

Swollen or filled legs in horses can be worrying, but there is usually no pain involved and it can be easily rectified. Swelling generally affects the lower part of the leg below the knee and, in most cases, doesn’t cause lameness.

In all cases of swelling, you should contact your vet to determine the cause.

Once your vet has examined your horse and is happy that the injury isn’t due to a serious injury or illness, there are a number of things you can do to help reduce it:

  1. Gentle exercise, such as walking in-hand or on a horse walker, can increase circulation and help to reduce swelling, as can turning your horse out.

  2. Cold hosing for 20 minutes a few times a day will help. You can also apply ice boots for 15-20 minutes if running water isn’t available, or cooling gel. Cooling the area increases circulation and helps to reduce inflammation and swelling.

  3. Stable bandaging will support the limbs while the horse is standing in his stable for longer periods.

  4. For mild cases of filling, your vet may recommend a more regular turnout regime or in-hand walking to increase circulation and encourage the swelling to dissipate.

  5. In cases of lymphangitis or cellulitis, your vet may prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. He may also prescribe antibiotics to treat the infection. He may also prescribe anti-inflammatory medicines to alleviate any pain and reduce swelling.

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