Swollen Leg

Also Known As

 

Description

A swollen leg can be the result of injury or disease. In cases where all four legs are involved, heart failure, equine purpura hemorrhagica, and other allergies and diseases are possibilities. When one leg is involved, the swelling is usually the result of a localized infection. Sometimes a wound is obvious, but often a tiny puncture wound or a small wound in the foot will cause swelling of the entire leg.

Cellulitis is the technical term for infection of the tissues. In severe cases, where the lymphatic system becomes involved, lymphangitis is the diagnosis. Inflammation of the lymphatics, the body's drainage channels that carry fluid towards the heart, become inflamed and blocked. Fluid then accumulates in the body or in the legs.

In any case, a swollen leg calls for a veterinarian's help in diagnosing and treating the problem, as well as in preventing complications.

Symptoms

  • Swollen leg or legs
  • Stiffness and reluctance to move
  • Lameness
  • Leg is sensitive to touch
  • A wound that oozes fluid or pus
  • Fever and/or heat in the affected limb
  • Depression
  • Tiny hemorrhages on lips, gums, or mucous membranes

Causes

Infection in the leg or foot and generalized illness, such as a heart condition, are the two main causes of swollen legs. In cases of generalized illnesses, all four limbs may be affected. If the swelling is caused by a localized wound that has become infected, or if lymphangitis is present, only one limb may be affected.

Lymphangitis occurs when a bacterial infection enters the lymph vessels through a wound in the lower leg, causing inflammation. This inflammation spreads through the lymphatic vessels, obstructing lymphatic flow and causing the vessels to swell and leak fluid. This results in extreme swelling of the leg.

Bacteria, foreign substances, or inorganic material that enters the system through a wound are usually the causes of infections that lead to a swollen leg.

In some cases, horses that are overworked will have some limb swelling, but without associated lameness or pain. In those cases, stall rest will help resolve the condition. If there is any question about the cause of the swelling, a veterinarian should be consulted.

Prevention

Prompt attention anytime a horse appears to have an injury to the legs, exhibits any degree of lameness, or has swelling in the legs can help prevent complications and reduce healing time. A daily inspection of the horse's limbs and body will help catch even minor injuries or mild degrees of lameness.

Treatment

Any injury to the lower leg should be promptly cleaned and an antiseptic wound dressing applied. Depending on the location, it may also be bandaged or wrapped. If a puncture wound is present, a veterinarian should be called to treat the wound and to administer tetanus antitoxin and tetanus toxoid, depending on the vaccination background of the horse.

If lymphangitis is suspected, treatment will go beyond local wound therapy and include systemic antibiotics, given for a length of time determined by the veterinarian. If ulcerative lymphangitis is diagnosed, the limb injuries will need to be cleaned and disinfected, as will the entire stable area.

Antimicrobials and anti-inflammatories to combat the infection will be given. Physical therapy, to prevent severe lameness, is often recommended, along with hydrotherapy, wraps, and the administration of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

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