Swollen legs, sometimes referred to as “stocking up,” are a noticeable increase in the size of the legs, giving affected horses the appearance of a “fat leg”.
• If leg swelling is accompanied with pain, heat, or lameness, it requires emergency veterinary attention
• The causes range but include poor lymphatic drainage, windpuffs, cellulitis, lymphangitis, and malignant edema
• Diagnostic tools include imaging, physical examination, blood work, and a lameness examination
• Treatment varies depending on the root cause and includes anti-inflammatories, antibacterials, bandaging, rest, and cold hosing
• Prognosis is widely varied and depends heavily on the root cause
“Stocking up” is a term horse owners often use to describe any instance of swollen legs. Medically speaking, stocking up refers specifically to swelling caused by accumulation of fluid in the limbs. Stocking up is not the only type of limb swelling possible in horses, but the differences between root causes are not obvious without diagnostic investigation.
Severity varies depending on the underlying condition causing the swelling. The severity increases when the swelling is accompanied with heat or lameness, as these are potential signs of infection. The number of limbs affected does not always indicate the severity of the underlying cause, as both minor and serious causes can affect one or multiple limbs.
Stocking up: Stocking up occurs when fluid pools in the lower limbs due to inactivity. Other causes of limb swelling include:
• Malignant edema
• Infections, such as strangles, equine influenza, equine viral arteritis, or equine herpesvirus
• Traumatic injuries
• Mud fever
Swollen legs in horses are common. If the swelling is accompanied by heat, pain, or lameness, it is an emergency that requires immediate attention. Otherwise, prompt attention is sufficient. Horses with a history of stocking up or windpuffs benefit from veterinary attention if symptoms change in severity.
After a physical examination and medical history, a number of tests can be run to determine the underlying cause, including
• Diagnostic imaging
• Blood work
• Lameness examination
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the swelling but can include;
• Cold hosing
• Physical therapy
Swelling of the lower limb joints may appear similarly to swelling of the limbs, however joint swellings are centered around a single joint.
• Heat associated with the swelling
• Pain when the limb is touched
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