Filled legs are a common problem, which is usually simple to resolve. However, there may be occasions when oedema may indicate more serious issues.
What are filled legs?
The term describes a condition where the horse’s legs become swollen. The hind legs are more commonly affected, usually when the horse has been standing for long periods of time in his stable.
The correct veterinary term for such swelling is oedema; this refers to an accumulation of fluid in the body’s tissues. Horses are particularly susceptible to this condition in their legs due to poor circulation in this part of the body. Ordinarily, a moving horse’s legs pump and move blood and lymphatic fluid back up the legs and onward around his body. When the horse is standing still this fluid movement slows down and some leaks out into the surrounding tissues, causing swelling or ‘filling’.
The obvious solution to filled legs is to get them moving again to disperse the excess fluid and leading the horse out in hand for a short period of time is usually sufficient to achieve this. If the horse is on box rest and exercise is not possible, stable bandages can be applied as a preventative measure and in some cases magnetic boots can improve circulation and reduce oedema.
Stable bandages are wider than exercise bandages and are usually made of soft, fleecy fabric with Velcro fastenings. They should always be applied over soft gamgee or cotton wool wraps and the horse’s legs should be clean and dry before you bandage.
Wrap the padding around the horse’s leg snugly and without lumps from the knee down to the coronet band. Begin bandaging midway down the leg and wrap the bandage around the leg from front to back beginning at the outside. Overlap half the bandage at each turn, keeping the pressure even and firm enough to prevent the bandage slipping.
When you reach the coronet band, continue bandaging back up the leg until just below the top of the padding then move down again until the bandage runs out. Fasten the bandage to the outside making sure that no pressure is applied to the tendons which run down the front of the cannon bone and the back of the leg.
When to call the vet
Filled legs usually cause no more problem than minor stiffness which is relieved after gentle exercise. If the problem persists after 24 hours, you should seek veterinary advice.
Persistent filling can be indicative of circulatory problems; heart conditions or low blood protein levels. Check carefully for cuts, punctures, lameness, depression or an elevated temperature. If you find any of these symptoms, always call your vet.
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