Swelling of Lower Limb Joints in Horses

Published on
Last updated on
2 min read

Key takeaways

Joint swelling is a common symptom in horses and has a variety of causes.

  • If accompanied by severe or sudden lameness, joint swelling is an emergency and immediate vet care is needed
  • The causes of swelling include traumatic injury to the joint, osteoarthritis, joint infections, and abnormalities in the bone or cartilage
  • Diagnosis typically involves a physical examination and diagnostic imaging to identify an underlying cause
  • Depending on the underlying cause, treatment involves a combination of rest, anti-inflammatory medications, cold hosing, and in some cases antibiotics or surgical intervention
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A closer look: Swelling of Lower Limb Joints in Horses

Joint swelling in horses is common and has a number of potential causes which vary in severity. Some causes of joint swelling are potentially career-ending for competitive horses, particularly if not treated promptly. If joint swelling occurs alongside severe or sudden lameness, the horse owner should seek immediate veterinary care. Cases with mild or no lameness require prompt veterinary care, to rule out underlying issues and ensure the joint’s long-term health.

Possible causes

Joint swelling is a symptom of a number of conditions in horses.

Risk factors

oint swelling can vary in severity based on a number of factors:

Acute: Swelling has rapid onset, often associated with a sharp pain.

Chronic: Swelling has persisted for a significant amount of time (weeks, months).

Single Joint: One affected joint.

Multiple Joints: More than one joint is affected.

Degree of Lameness associated with the swelling: Lameness associated with joint swelling is serious and requires immediate attention, especially if the onset is acute.

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnostics for a horse with joint swelling starts with physical examination to identify the severity. Since horses have multiple of each joint, swelling can be easily compared to a counterpart to determine the severity of the swelling. Diagnostic testing to determine the cause for joint swelling may include:

  • Lameness examination
  • Diagnostic imaging (x rays, CT scans, bone scan, ultrasound)
  • Bloodwork
  • Joint fluid analysis

Treatment depends on the cause but may include

  • Stall rest
  • Surgery
  • Antibiotics
  • Anti-inflammatory medication
  • Cold packs or cold hosing
  • Joint injections

Similar symptoms

Associated symptoms

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