Cellulitis In Horses

Cellulitis In Horses: Beating The Bacteria

A bacterial infection is no joke; especially when it comes to cellulitis in horses. Maybe you noticed a little swelling in the legs, or your furry buddy is walking funny.

Don’t stress, though! There are ways to prevent cellulitis in horses and treat it too. Let’s saddle up and gallop to recovery together.

What Is Cellulitis In Horses?

Cellulitis is an inflammatory disease that mainly affects your horse’s skin and tissues underneath. You’ll probably notice that it’s mainly in the form of swelling in the horse’s hind legs. The affected limb can get pretty big, and mess with the horse’s ability to bear weight on the affected leg or balance properly on a hind leg.

Cellulitis affects normal blood flow in the affected area, causing some build-up of fluid and inflammation. Swelling can even spread to other tissues as the bacterial infection spreads.

What Does It Look Like?

In horses, cellulitis can look kind of obvious – there’s leg swelling, redness, and warmth of the skin. In fact, this skin infection can look like stretched skin that’s kind of shiny. Depending on how bad it gets, the swelling can look like a minor puffiness or major enlargement of the leg. In severe cases, it’ll look way bigger than it’s supposed to.

Sometimes, this swelling can affect the tissues around it. You may notice your horse struggling to walk properly or leaning weirdly on their other legs. If you apply any pressure on the area, they’ll probably wince, or show pain in another way.

Cellulitis in horses

What Causes It?

One of the main things that can cause this swollen leg is a problem in your horse’s lymphatic system. Lymphatic drainage occurs through connections of lymphatic vessels – meaning, they get rid of any extra fluid in the horse’s tissues.

But, sometimes, this entire lymphatic system can get disrupted – perhaps because of blunt trauma to the hind limb. Keep an eye on playtime between horses, as it’s possible your buddy was kicked by another horse!

This kind of force can really disrupt lymphatic circulation, causing trouble in the form of equine cellulitis. In fact, poor circulation can also lead to cellulitis. When the blood isn’t flowing properly in your horse’s hind limbs, you’re bound to see some extreme swelling come around and even some skin sloughing in severe cellulitis. It’s not exactly a fun time.

Preventing Cellulitis In Horses

There are a few things you can do regularly to prevent cellulitis episodes from popping up in your stables, or at least, catch it before it gets bad!

Cold hosing is probably going to be your best friend here. Grab the hose, turn on the cold water, and give your horse’s lower leg a nice, refreshing soak. This helps to chill those muscles and lower any inflammation in the soft tissue that could possibly be around.

Cold hose your horse if it has any swelling

When it comes to primary and secondary cellulitis, things can switch up a bit. The major problem area is primary cellulitis, which is when that awful bacteria gets into the skin. Secondary is a bit different – it’s when there’s a wound or cut on the skin, and the bacteria invade the territory.

Basically, just keep your horse clear of cuts, scratches and open wounds. Clean them up, use some antiseptic cream, and keep a close eye on them. That’s the best way to prevent cellulitis from popping up.

Exercise also plays a major role in keeping your horse healthy. Even some basic hand-walking routines can help increase the flow of blood and get the veins doing what they have to. Besides, it’s a great way to bond with your buddy along the way! 

This might sound a little weird, but diet also plays a role. Make sure your horse has a well-balanced meal full of vitamins and minerals – they’re going to need a strong immune system to protect themselves against cellulitis, and any other infection.

And to cap it off, watch your horse’s legs all the time – check for any swelling, strange warmth, or weird changes in the skin. If you catch it early, it won’t spread.

Treating Cellulitis In Horses

So, some swollen legs have slipped past you. What next? Don’t worry too much, there are plenty of ways to treat cellulitis in horses and get their legs back on the track! The first thing you need to focus on is how to reduce swelling. As mentioned before, cold hosing is awesome for helping with extensive swelling. You can even put on a pressure wrap to squeeze out any extra tissue fluid and improve circulation.

The next thing is to hit your horse vet up as soon as you can; they’ll prescribe the appropriate antibiotic to get the bacteria on its way back to where it came from. In some cases, chronic cellulitis is something that might show up. If you notice cellulitis seems to keep coming back, there are other ways to deal with the issue. You can get a vet to do joint injections directly into the septic joints. Bingo, bango, bongo, sorted!

The next thing to think about is pain management. Even though the problem may be on its way to getting all cleared up, your horse might still need some pain relief medication. They feel pain just like we do, and we take meds, so they should too! Besides, cellulitis can be extremely painful. The problem is, horses can’t talk to us, so body language is key.

If your horse is non-weight bearing on the affected leg, it’s probably a sign that they could use some relief. Get them a nice and soft bed to relax on, with easy access to their grub and water.

The Aftermath

Depending on how bad the infection is, cellulitis should heal in just a couple of days if you’ve treated it properly. After it’s healed, though, you still need to treat your buddy with care. This means some gentle massages, compression bandages, and easy exercise. It’s also important to look after their wounds properly and head to the vet for regular check-ups.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there. Cellulitis in horses can have some long-term effects. When inflammation gets around the body, it can stretch and cause scar tissue. This means your horse might be left with some scars.

In super serious cases, the affected tissue won’t be as strong as it used to be. The flow of the lymphatic fluid can even cause lymphedema, which causes the limb to get all puffy, heavy, and uncomfortable.

Lymphedema in horses


Is cellulitis contagious in horses?

No need to worry about cellulitis spreading to other horses. It’s absolutely not contagious, but you should keep a watchful eye on all of your horses anyway!

Can cellulitis in horses come back?

Yes, it’s possible for cellulitis to keep recurring in your horse. However, if you treat it properly and get the right meds from your vet, it shouldn’t be a problem. Just don’t ignore the signs!

Can cellulitis lead to more serious conditions in my horse?

Yes, if cellulitis isn’t treated properly or caught in time, it can lead to conditions like lymphedema. Preventative measures are better in the long run, even if they take some time out of your schedule!

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